The Leveson Inquiry portrays a false image of journalism.
Journalism bashing is at the height of fashion. Charlotte Church, J. K. Rowling, and Steve Coogan have all given statements deriding the actions of over-zealous and under-hand journalism in the on-going Leveson Inquiry.
Church spoke about being offered money for a performance or “favourable coverage” from News International (who then ran a story in The Sun days before her sixteenth birthday about the dying seconds of her virginity), and Rowling talked about how one journalist attempted to contact her by slipping a note into her five year old daughter’s school bag. Each further statement brought before the Inquiry feels like nails in a coffin, as journalism’s image is reduced to shreds.
There’s a journalist stereotype starting to circulate too, in the concerning form of Paul McMullan. McMullan, ex-News of the World Features Editor, is the horrendous poster boy for this campaign against the bad journalism: the person that everyone loves to hate. The problem is that he is the exception, not the rule, and we shouldn’t be so quick to turn the results of the Inquiry back upon the wider work of journalists.
McMullan leapt at the chance for coverage when the phone hacking scandal first broke. He was, and remains, insistent on driving the resulting stereotype to excess and driving journalism’s image deeper into the quagmire. He became the icon for gratuitous tabloid journalism, and now the whole journalism industry has been marked with him; stained. The Leveson Inquiry seems to lack balance too, despite The Guardian’s Nick Davies, who initially broke the phone hacking scandal, being called to give a statement last week.
The emerging stereotype is one that we shouldn’t lightly accept, regardless of what the likes of Hugh Grant say. It’s good journalism that bought this saga to light in the first place. We’ve also seen stories unveiled through valiant journalism that fiction couldn’t invent; Wikileaks and the MPs’ expenses scandal to name but a couple from recent years.
The Leveson Inquiry is right to act as it does, but we the public shouldn’t lose focus of the purpose journalism serves; the benefits that a free press bring to our society.
Perhaps journalists were wrong to intrude in some cases. But if some aren’t prepared to look into the dark recesses of our society, too many important issues can be easily hidden from the public eye. And, after all, if it wasn’t for journalism, you wouldn’t be able to read headlines like “My lover and I had it off while my fiancée’s corpse rotted in the next room” in next week’s glossy Closer magazine. It’d just be government propaganda, and then where would we be?