Belfast Telegraph

Saturday 20 September 2014

No justification for phone hacking under any guise

Readers' Editor Paul Connolly

With twin controversies about media methods raging during and since the festive period, readers may occasionally find themselves pondering the thorny issue of Press ethics.



When do — or even should — journalists use clandestine recordings, false identities or other types of subterfuge in order to get stories? And what is this newspaper's stance on the issue?

The two main recent, and ongoing, controversies involve the Daily Telegraph and the News of the World.

Of course, the juiciest came from unsuspecting Lib Dems who opened their hearts on the morality of coalition Government with their one-time Conservative arch-enemies.

None of it, to be honest, was startling stuff. Except one, that is: Business Secretary Vince Cable’s statement to a couple of undercover reporters that he had privately “declared war” on Rupert Murdoch and his media empire.

Clearly, publication of this by the Daily Telegraph (when it finally came) was in the public interest because of Cable’s role in media regulation, including the bid by the Murdoch-owned News Corp to take full control of broadcaster BSkyB.

The trouble is the Daily |Telegraph merely stumbled across the ‘war’ after it had dispatched undercover journalists hoping |to record ministers’ off-guard |comments.

Clause 10 of the Press Complaints Commission’s Editors’ Code of Practice prohibits the Press from seeking, or publishing, material obtained by hidden camera or secret microphone |unless it’s in the public interest.

It also states that reporters should only engage in subterfuge if the material sought is in the public interest and can’t be gained by other means. The public interest includes ‘preventing the public from being misled . . .’. Plainly, the hypocrisy of Cable’s private vendetta satisfies the test.

For the record, this newspaper, of course, subscribes to the Editors’ Code of Practice and would deploy subterfuge, but only |providing all legal and Editors’ Code criteria are met.

The other ongoing media controversy — the News of the World phone ‘hacking’ case — is much more straightforward. It is, simply, illegal to hack into phones.

In spite of the jailing of the News of the World’s Royal editor and a private eye in 2007, the controversy continues to fester and has the potential to inflict serious damage.

It is a story that will have a shelf-life considerably longer than Vince Cable’s ‘war’ on Rupert Murdoch.

BTreaderseditor@gmail.com

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