Sunday 30 January 2011

State of Play

I've just finished rewatching State of Play - the original TV series not the disappointing film. I thought it was (apart obviously from 24 series 5) the best thing I've seen on TV. A brilliant twisting tale about how the journalist heroes uncover details of political deceit and corporate corruption, even murder.

It made me ponder the phone-hacking scandal. The press is very powerful. I'd hate to be on the wrong side of it, especially if I didn't have the resource to protect me or the opportunity to benefit from any resulting publicity. It also doesn't always decide to follow things up and it can focus on irrelevancies. But there's no doubt that a free cynical and aggressive media keeps the body politic honest.

And is hacking into voice messages really different from rooting through dustbins? Or pretending to be someone else to get an interview? Or misrepresenting information to get hold of incriminating documents? (Things I admired in State of Play). No; this is a case of the end justifying the means. If a story is good enough then we should accept journalists have to overstep the mark to get the results.

There is a question about whether the News of the World's hacking (and I am sure most other papers do this as well) is focused on good stories; it's hard to imagine Kelly Hoppen, Sienna Miller, John Prescott or Gordon Brown having interesting messages, and the saga supposedly began with as tory about Prince Willaim's knee. But I suspect the underlying theme of such celebrity stories would be hypocrisy; they all benefit from publicity but they all complain when it's not good.

Hypocrisy underlies the News of the World story. The Guardian has made the most running; had it not been for the ex-editor being Cameron's press adviser, would they have bothered? They are after all the paper that linked with Wikileaks, relying on stolen information broadcast without care, to sell papers. Phone hacking is minor misbehaviour compared to theirs.

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