Tuesday, 5 July 2011

underhanded journalism - who bears the responsibility?

It has recently emerged that the voicemails of murdered schoolgirl Milly Dowler were accessed by the News of the World during the investigation into her disappearance. At the time this led her parents to believe that she was still alive, as some of her voicemails were deleted in order to leave room for more.

In journalistic terms, this has to be about as low as anyone can go in order to gain a story, and the revelation has been met with shock and disgust.

Quite aside from that, there are surely questions to be asked as to whether or not this could lead to criminal charges, such as perverting the course of justice or hampering a police investigation, but presumably only time will tell.

However, the News of the World is no stranger to phone hacking, in fact in the past months/years there have been numerous allegations by celebrities and politicians, claiming that they have been targeted in the tabloid's pursuit of a story about their private lives.

That the use of these underhanded tactics is despicable is surely not in dispute, and it could be argued that those responsible should be brought to account for their actions. However, it could also be argued that the readers of these newspapers also bear some responsibility.

The News of the World is one of the top selling Sunday papers in the UK. And given the paper is well known for its underhanded tactics in obtaining stories, it is evident that what the paper prints is what the readers want.

The phone hacking scandal has been ongoing for some months now, and yet while people seem to quietly object, it is only with this recent revelation that people have begun to openly express their disgust. And while it of course goes without saying that accessing the voicemails of a thirteen year old who it turned out was murdered is about as low as you can get, in truth it is no less despicable to access the voicemails of a celebrity, or politician in order to publish details about their private lives for everyone to read.

Ultimately these papers print what their readers want to see, they are therefore feeding a chain of supply and demand.

I'm not entirely sure that there are people who would want to pay money to read about what a thirteen year old had as her voicemails, but then I'm not entirely sure that they wouldn't either. The readers of the News of the World generally seek sensation, stories about the private lives of their favourite celebrity, or least favourite politician. How this information is gained is irrelevant to them - as long as they can read about it, where it came from is not important.

Therefore, while the journalist accessing the voicemails should bear the brunt of responsibility, without the market, i.e. the readers, there would be no need for the underhanded tactics in order to gain a story, and therefore the readers surely also bear some responsibility.

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