The News of the World: journalism should stop and re-think itself

Aug 7, 2011
Journalism's Integrity Under Scrutiny: The NOTW Scandal and the Role of the Press in Society
Brazil gives a myopic coverage to the News of the World scandal, a newspaper from Rupert Murdoch's empire that will circulate for the last time on Sunday. This is not just about a large newspaper closing (and by "large," I mean "large," with about 3 million copies per Sunday). This is about a radical discussion on the role of the press, the responsibility of journalists for the actions of their colleagues, and the role of society in demanding respect for the law.
In a quick summary. In a sensational story, The Guardian proved that the NOTW kept a private investigator in the newsroom to invade people's privacy and this investigator did not mind corrupting police officers, buying personal documents, hacking phones and credit card accounts. The case that caused the explosion was that of Milly Dowler, a 13-year-old girl who had disappeared in 2002 and whose cell phone was hacked by NOTW reporters. In their eagerness for news, they emptied Milly's voicemail, leading the family to believe that she was alive for another six months, when in reality she had already been killed.
Naturally, as expected in a country where society respects itself, the world came crashing down and all advertisers withdrew their accounts from the NOTW, causing News International to announce the closure of the newspaper. Everyone reacted in some way, but there will be discussions that will only appear in a few weeks, when tempers cool. Now is the time for people to go to jail, pay compensation and everything else. The ethical discussion comes later. If it comes at all.
On Twitter, the vast majority of English journalists are showing their solidarity with the NOTW journalists who lost their jobs. The laid-off journalists lament, saying that the newspaper was being punished for mistakes made in another management and by their bosses. But then an interesting question arises: are these journalists really blameless?
As a journalist, it's easy to say: everyone knows if there are shady dealings where you work, if your company is reputable and if anyone is in trouble. Because of a lie called class consciousness or a subversion of the word "commitment", professionals remain silent about the things that circulate above their heads. Or simply out of fear. However, these same professionals, at the end of each month, cheerfully receive their salaries, even if the company they work for is acting in ways that range from inappropriate to criminal.
So, why should a journalist - even if honest and competent - who works in a corrupt and sometimes criminal company be absolved when he knows about this attitude from the company (even if he only admits this in private conversations)? Journalists who work in these companies usually do so because of better salaries and greater professional projection. Isn't this a form of complicity?
In the book "Hitler's Willing Executioners," sociologist Daniel Jonah Goldhagen argues that Hitler could not have carried out the reign of terror he did if the ordinary German had not silently agreed with what National Socialism was doing. In this pact, the ordinary German accepted that the State would commit atrocities as long as he obtained advantages. In Goldhagen's opinion, the German citizen had his hands stained with blood. And in the same way, journalists, even if honest and competent, working for organizations that believe they are above the law, when they prefer to close their eyes to inconvenient truths, are endorsing the policy of this company. This is exactly the case with the NOTW.
The discussion of Dowlergate goes much further: how to contain a journalistic company that has so much power that it makes the State fear it? How to preserve freedom of the press (an absolute pillar in the construction of democracy) without allowing the pursuit of audience to create a de facto fourth power? How to demand that institutions stand up in defense of society when one of these companies is violating it? How to create mechanisms so that politicians and powerful communication companies do not create incestuous ties?
England is entering a discussion that can only be made in a society 1) that respects itself; 2) that has a political system that does not guarantee immunities to its representatives; 3) that has an independent judiciary; 4) that has a strong media industry with competition and 5) with a real determination to cleanse itself. Today, good journalism is interpreted by audience - any fool exploiting the misery of others gains the airs of a journalist. Even in England, considered the most mature media market in the world, it is like this. With the episode of Milly Dowler, the British have the opportunity to change this.

© Cassiano Gobbet 2023 - 2024