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Journalism, Observations, Opinion

Swamp dwellers in a feeding frenzy

Trevor Kavanagh and his fellow legends of British journalism might think they’re part of a “family” but their boss probably thinks they’re employees, and non-union ones at that.

Start draining a swamp and the things that live in it are soon desperately thrashing around and snapping wildly.

That’s what happened when five journalists from The Sun were arrested as part of a bribery investigation, following evidence handed over by News Corporation’s Management and Standards Committee.

Long serving Murdoch loyalist Trevor Kavanagh kicked off a frenzy of moral outrage from current and former News International journalists who accused the police, politicians and the MSC of Soviet style tactics, bullying, intimidation and even human rights abuses.

But the most telling tale from the swamp was one of betrayal.

As former Sunday Times Editor Andrew Neill told Reuters, “The Sun has turned against Rupert Murdoch.”

According to Neill, Sun journalists believe Murdoch has launched a witch-hunt to protect himself.

For some reason, the notion of Rupert Murdoch acting out of self-interest has come as something of a surprise to his employees, in spite of decades of evidence to support it.

Bill Bryson was working on The Times during the bitter industrial dispute Murdoch waged with the print unions back in the 1980s. He gave an account of those days in his excellent book Notes from a Small Island.

One night on his way through the picket line Bryson had a close encounter with one of the strikers which prompted this observation:

“… it occurred to me that I was about to squander my small life for the benefit of a man who had, without apparent hesitation, given up his own nationality out of economic self-interest.”

Trevor Kavanagh and his fellow legends of British journalism might think they’re part of a “family” but their boss probably thinks they’re employees, and non-union ones at that.

This is not about family, it’s business. It’s about saving News Corp.

That’s why the work of the Management Standards Committee will go on, possibly for another 18 months.

I look forward to a long and entertaining feeding frenzy as the News International “family” eats itself.

It couldn’t happen to a nicer bunch.

There are serious ramifications for the future of journalism, already reeling in the face of a collapsed business model which has not yet been remade.

And just as people have become used to accessing their news for free, a bunch of British journalists is demonstrating why it’s not worth paying for.

Worse, people just might go further and think it’s not worth protecting.

And who could blame them?

How does a once noble profession persuade people to distinguish between journalists doing their jobs and journalists breaking the law, when so many journalists seem to be having such difficulty with it?

Britain’s finest can bleat about their colleagues getting dragged from their beds by Stasi-like police and try to turn a criminal investigation into a war on press freedom and human rights.

Meanwhile, according to the Committee to Protect Journalists, the number of journalists imprisoned around the world last year was the highest since the mid-1990s.

There were 179 writers, editors and photojournalists in jail on 1 December 2011, mostly in the Middle East and North Africa. I wonder how many of them are sitting in their cells struggling to distinguish between matters of public interest and what interests the public.

And six journalists have been killed already in 2012. Since 1992, 899 have died and more are missing, presumed dead.

Go to the CPJ website for some really shocking statistics and then, if you can stomach it, read again Trevor Kavanagh’s cri de coeur from the swamp.

And if that doesn’t do it for you, there’s always Richard Littlejohn, Kelvin MacKenzie or indeed any number of Fleet Street’s finest serving up hypocrisy by the bucketload.

As I’ve said before, I grew up in Asia where I met many journalists who simply wanted the same press freedom for their countries that was enjoyed in Britain.

If any of that freedom is lost through the current investigations and inquiries going on in the UK, the journalists who have allowed their profession to be debased and trivialised will bear a good deal of the responsibility.

Further reading:

Exposed – The bullying culture at The Sun by Tom Watson

There’s always the Human Rights Act, Trevor by Matthew Norman

Factcheck on Kavanagh’s claims on the scale of the police investigation By Rob Locock

Trevor Kavanagh learns a hard lesson about human rights and due process by Richard Wilson

And for all those professionals out there in need of a brush-up – McNae’s Essential Law for Journalists

© Sally Baxter 2012

About Sally Baxter

Once I was a girl reporter, blogging as Sally Baxter. Now I'm writing under my name at www.mariaspackman.com covering the past, present and future of journalism and whatever else takes my fancy. All views my own.



  1. Pingback: Tim Page keeps the faith « Sally Baxter - March 5, 2012

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Your Girl Reporter is now filing as Maria Spackman at www.mariaspackman.com Same great content, whole new website. I’m leaving Sally Baxter up, as I can’t quite bring myself to let her go completely, but it’s time to honour my family name – and use it. Hope you’ll join me for the Further Adventures of a Girl Reporter. It’ll be fun.

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