Belfast Telegraph

Reader's Editor: Wiki or otherwise, we all love to report a good leak

By Paul Connolly

Journalists love a good leak of secret documents. Nothing gladdens a hack's heart more than the shedding of light on a corner supposed to be forever in the shade.

As the saying, attributed to Lord Northcliff, goes: News is something that someone, somewhere wants to keep secret. All the rest is advertising.

The Belfast Telegraph has had its share of leaked documents down through the years, many of them of course emanating from Stormont. Readers are particularly appreciative of this brand of investigative reporting.

The important thing about leaks is that they should be newsworthy and that they should expose skullduggery of some sort. Generally, the two go hand-in-hand.

(That's not the same as saying that confidentiality should not exist: try getting any news organisation to hand over its internal communications in the name of transparency.)

Will this week's renewed WikiLeaks controversy be a watershed in democratic accountability, or is the cause of openness being defiled by geeks with grudges? History will doubtless tell.

For journalists and media-watchers, one of the many interesting aspects of the WikiLeaks controversy is the absence of pressure on editors.

No serious drive appears to have been made by Western governments to halt publication. Britain's DA-Notice Committee, the voluntary body that relays national security concerns to editors, appears to have been virtually uninvolved.

Whether that is a testament to the unstoppable international nature of the story, or the maturity of liberal democracy, is another one for the historians.

ONE reader, Graham McKenzie, got in touch this week to ask why the Belfast Telegraph did not report the protest by our former Romanian paper sellers outside our offices last Friday morning.

Fair enough question. Except that it was reported.

The demonstration was covered in the Final edition of that day — which, incidentally, is the biggest-selling edition of the week.

A report of three paragraphs was published on page 16.

Not, admittedly, War and Peace. But deadlines were tight. And also, it was felt that the Telegraph shouldn't go out of its way to highlight negative news about itself when there were others willing to do that job.

Some will agree with that stance, others will disagree I'm sure. As it turned out, the demonstration received plenty of coverage — the BBC in particular went into overdrive, with Nolan, Talkback and TV and radio news all piling in with their tuppence-worth.

Ho, hum. You take it on the chin. It's not like the Tele has never given Auntie Beeb a kicking down through the years . . .

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