WHAT OTHERS SAY: In phone-tapping scandal, a cautionary tale for journalism

Thursday, July 21, 2011 | 4:19 p.m. CDT

It would be easy for Americans to dismiss England’s phone-tapping scandal as entirely foreign and not a domestic concern.

After all, the scandal began with a most British story, a 2005 scoop on Prince William’s semi-secret treatment for an injury in 2005.

But the case is a black eye and a cautionary tale for journalism as a whole. While the scandal focuses on illegal practices at the now-shuttered News of the World newspaper, which never graced these shores, that paper was part of Rupert Murdoch’s media empire.

And that empire most certainly has an American base, including Fox and The Wall Street Journal.

The scandal in England was the result of competition run amok and lax ethics. Police were bribed. Politicians were pressured to look the other way. The phones tapped included the family of a murdered schoolgirl, Iraq war widows and celebrities. Rumors persist that the phones of 9/11 victim families also may have been listened in on.

In 1998, a similar case on a much smaller scale rocked the Cincinnati Enquirer’s investigation of Chiquita. And while in that case a single reporter was deemed at fault, it points out that scandal can happen here as well.

In these days, as journalism broadens beyond what is often called “the mainstream media” and those practicing it are more frequently “citizen journalists,” it is extremely important that fundamental journalism ethics be known and respected.

As we watch a case in England that threatens journalism, the police and the government, it’s vital that we remember a simple rule: Good journalism not only must be true and fair, but crafted from information fairly and honestly gathered.

Copyright Kansas City Star. Reprinted with permission.

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Tim Trayle July 21, 2011 | 7:58 p.m.

The editorial depoliticizes the UK crimes committed by Murdoch employees in and instead makes a sanitized plea and somewhat anodyne plea for ethics.
The real issues at stake in the UK have to do with the extraordinary political power accumulated by Murdoch's media, to the point where (a) police and the Murdoch outlets are deeply incestuous (something like 20% of Scotland Yard's PR staff were/are former Murdoch men), and (b) *no* gov't--Conservative *or* Labour--could afford not to be on the good side of Murdoch's empire. In other words, the phone hacking is merely a symptom of a much deeper problem--one not entirely alien to our own media/political nexus.

(Report Comment)
Ellis Smith July 21, 2011 | 8:36 p.m.

We are probably going to hear a lot about ethics in the days to come.

Various professions/occupations have their respective ethical codes, but there seem to be two where folks are constantly yammering about professional ethics.

Why, if you have a code of ethics and are acting ethically, would you find it necessary to carry on about ethics?

I'll skip any parables involving prostitutes.

(Report Comment)

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