Tuesday, 12 July 2011

The Times: 'NI has lost control of the story'

The Times in a leader today describes the impact of the phone hacking scandal on its owner, News International, as "catastrophic".

It says: "Feeling unable to rely on the information supplied by News International, politicians, the police and other journalists are seeking to piece together the truth themselves.

"If the result has been a mixture of scandalous truth and half-baked allegation, brilliant investigative scoops and unworthy commercial agendas, incisive political leadership and petty political sniping, then News International cannot, sadly complain. It employs enough experienced journalists to know what happens when you lose control of the story."

It adds: "The political cost became even clearer yesterday as those with long-held grudges against News International weighed in. But it is not a cost that will have to be paid by the company alone. There will also be broader questions about the methods and motives of journalists that will have to be answered by all media companies. For there will not be one that hasn’t cut corners or used what will seem to some questionable methods to pursue a story."

The Times says some of the great journalistic exposés in history were achieved using methods that could now be, and sometimes were at the time, challenged by the police or taken to court.

"Take the publication by The Daily Telegraph of the details of MPs’ expenses claims, made possible by the exchange of money for stolen goods. Or the publication by The Guardian of diplomatic cables provided to them by WikiLeaks, which has led Bradley Manning, a soldier in the United States Army, to face a large number of serious criminal charges.

"In each of these cases there will be, and there must be, accountability before the law. But the examples illustrate something beyond that. They show that the ultimate test for journalists — the one that cannot be failed — is integrity.

"Public opinion and the law will ultimately stand by journalists who pursue great stories in the public interest and are able to demonstrate that they have acted to expose the facts on matters of national importance. Embarking on an investigation, journalists need to ensure that the methods they use can be justified by the motivation and the outcome.

"The new phase of what began as the hacking scandal will provide journalists and the newspaper industry with more hard days ahead. It is a challenge they can only meet by restating the public purpose of journalism, underlining its necessity as a check on power and robustly defending its freedom."

  • The Times turned down the MPs' expenses story. Times columnist David Aaronovitch told a meeting at City University last October the editor of The Times believed it was "unethical to buy information that had been stolen."
  • The Times is behind a paywall.

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