Tuesday 24 January 2012

Jon Snow: 'Phone hacking journalists took some weird pleasure in urinating on our world'

Channel 4 News anchor Jon Snow was scathing about journalists who hacked phones when giving this year's Hugh Cudlipp Lecture at the London College of Communication last night.

Snow made a plea for media bosses to let their journalists get out in the real world, claiming: "We journalists are not a breed apart – we must be of the world we report. The hacking scandal reveals an echelon of hacks who removed themselves from the world in which the rest of us live – they took some weird pleasure in urinating on our world."

"Bosses must carve out time for journalists to get out of the newsroom," he said. "Leveson should recommend many of the people and institutions that have been before him find a way of allowing their staff to get stuck into the real world, it will vastly improve and deepen their journalism.

Snow gave an upbeat view of the media future, claiming: "We are poised for the golden age of journalism.

He said: "For the first time since Caxton, Alexander Graham Bell, Marconi, or Logie Baird – the entire media has been liberated; liberated in a way that allows the reader, viewer, listener the true capacity to answer back.

"We are in the age of answer back, better still we are in the age in which ‘we the people’ have their greatest opportunity ever to influence the information agenda…But above all we are in the age of more. More potential to get it right, to get it fast, to get it in depth. We have that illusive entity ‘the level playing field’; we can compete on equal terms and yet be the best. Sure, we are justifiably scared of ‘we the people’ – where will they lead us – we want control, order.

"Fear not! Our editorial control remains. It’s just that we no longer live in a vacuum – unknowing of the effect of our reporting. We know more about how to interest our consumers, how to engage, and what effect what we do have upon them.

"We can detect them switching on or off. We can see their comments surge on Facebook or Twitter: – they interact – they augment – and if we are open enough, we learn. In short, the democratisation of information through the web is providing journalists with opportunity to enter the gateway to the golden age."

Snow added: "So how do we make money out of our dawning golden age? Well not by selling newspapers, that’s clear. I believe it unlikely that many people will be turning paper pages in a decade’s time. But the brands will live on in our golden age."

In his lecture, Snow said there was no evidence anyone was harmed by revelations from WikiLeaks. "The Americans told us that WikiLeaks would result in the deaths of many agents and informers. Are we to suppose that if even one had died the Americans would not have broadcast the fact to prove their case? How about a challenge: I believe there is no evidence that anyone has died from a WikiLeak. WikiLeaks told us what we know: the most extraordinary quantity of stuff is kept from the citizenry because it’s easier that way – it’s the culture."

On Leveson, he argued: "Our secretive society is being opened up. Our media society is being opened up with it. If the Leveson Inquiry does nothing else it reveals the questionable values of key elements of the tabloid press – to the grave detriment of the very fine work that is done by other elements of that same tabloid press that help keep sport, politics, and business straight. Well instanced by both the cricket fixing story and key aspects of the Stephen Lawrence investigation. The tabloid street is not one way – but when it reaches the gutter it is devoid of proportion, care, and all too often, truth."

On regulation, Snow praised the way Ofcom had regulated broadcasting, claiming "they have done an excellent job regulating my end of television: firm, fair, intelligent" and asked: "What are these print guys afraid of – if their story is right, is justified, they have nothing to fear from a regulator.

"Even the most hardened of tabloid journalists must have been, mortified, embarrassed, even shocked at the rubbish that has tipped across Leveson’s desk; what age do these supposed journalists and editors, the agents of this stuff live in… what lives do they live?"

He said: "I see no reason why print journalism wouldn’t benefit from a credible regulator in the same way TV has. Alas thus far they have not enjoyed a credible regulator. I’m not suggesting Ofcom should take over. But an independent system with its own powers to investigate wrong-doing seems an essential given what has gone wrong in the past couple of decades.

"It should be at well over arms length from Government, exclude any serving editors from its ranks, and probably - a very long way down the line have recourse to the law to enforce its will. But I would hope that the mere spectre of the law would be enough to sort things out.

"By the way the establishment of the regulatory system should be accompanied by the wholesale abolition of the UK’s current libel laws and any recasting to ensure both free speech and the rights of the individual – it could probably be achieved within the Human Rights Act.

"If we can practice cutting edge journalism on television with regulation I see no reason why an Ofcom style regulator, although not necessarily an identical system, with full access for public complaint - should not be perfectly applicable to the print world too."
  • Ben Bryant, a City University journalism graduate, won this year's Cudlipp Student Journalist Award for features about gang culture published in the London Evening Standard. He is now with the Telegraph.

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