Last night a panel at City university London including Max Mosley, Guardian journalist Nick Davies, former News of the World (NOTW) features editor Paul McMullan and Roy Greenslade and debated newspaper journalism in the post-NOTW phone-hacking world.
I felt the debate was a little stuck in 1980. All the panelists talked about newspaper editors like they were huge behemoths without once mentioning the internet. Nothing was mentioned of the number of dubious privacy stories which have that are being broke on the internet. Think, for example, of the story earlier this year about William Hague having gay relations with his aide. That broke not in the mainstream print media, many of whom had known of the rumours about his sexuality for years, but because of a number of online blogs starting rumours. Eventually Hague overreacted to the rumours and escalated the story, but the initial potentially libelous claims were made on a number of different sites on the internet. Who could you sue for libel in such cases?
As his solution to what is so-called ‘legitimate’ hacking in the public interest Nick Davies proposed a panel of ‘three wise men’ who would be able to decide whether a story is in the public interest before it was published. He suggested that the meetings would be kept secret but how long before the rumours would leak onto the internet? Then everything that went before the judges would be known by other papers and eventually linked to gossip websites.
When the John Terry affair rumours were to be published in The News of the World a judge ruled on the Friday that they be restricted by a super-injunction. By the following Thursday they were allowed to be published as internet rumours had made the story effectively in the public domain already. Therein the NOTW, the paper that had invested the resources in the story, had lost the scoop and the revenue that went with it. Having six distinguished panelists debate the future of the newspaper journalism is only really worthwhile if they can talk about the future of journalism as well. For a more thorough analysis they would have to have considered some of the sites, like popbitch, that the NOTW is increasingly in competition with.