Monday, 24 May 2010

Entrapment journalism: 'Sneaky but valid?'

Stephen Glover argues in the Independent today - following the Mail on Sunday Lord Triesman story and the News of the World's sting on Fergie - that entrapment journalism is still justifiable.
He says: "In normal life nice people do not try to entrap one another. It is sneaky and underhand. But journalists for these purposes are not particularly nice people and neither, often, are the people they entrap.
"You cannot easily encourage a person to say or do something out of character, though one can imagine exceptions where extreme pressure might be put on someone. The primary test should not be that of consequence. You might feel it is highly regrettable that The Mail On Sunday has jeopardised England's bid. I might feel that the News Of The World's sting indirectly damages the monarchy, and is part of its owner, Rupert Murdoch's, republican agenda. We may both be right, but that is beside the point. If journalists fret about the consequences of what they write – as long as it is true and lawfully obtained – we can say goodbye to revealing journalism.
"Significance is the test. It is significant that the (now former) chairman of the FA thinks the Spanish and Russians a bunch of crooks. If he is right, I should like to know more, and if he is wrong I should like to know how he formed his view in the first place. It wasn't the best story in the world, but it wasn't a terrible one. The Fergie story was stronger, though in view of her known character it was hardly along the lines of "St Francis of Assisi caught stealing from the poor". Neither story makes us feel better about the world, but both were justifiable."
  • Also in the Independent today, the investigative journalist and former member of the Sunday Times' Insight team Phillip Knightley says entrapment journalism is a cheap way for newspapers to get quick results. He claims: "Most of the reporters I worked with at The Sunday Times in the 1980s opposed the use of deception on principle. They took their lead from a statement by Benjamin C Bradlee, executive editor of the Washington Post: "In a day when we are spending thousands of man-hours uncovering deception, we simply cannot afford to deceive." So why do newspapers do it? Going undercover is considered glamorous. Acting a role that exposes wrongdoing or greedy and bad behaviour attracts some journalists, particularly those seeking to become the heroes of their own stories. But above all, at a time of falling circulations and editorial financial restrictions it is a comparatively cheap form of journalism with a quick result."
  • Roy Greenslade, who has often been a fierce critic of the NoW and Mazher Mahmood, defends the paper on his blog today and said it was right to run the Fergie story.

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