Press Under Pressure

The British press has recently been in the spotlight for all the wrong reasons. The Leveson Inquiry is currently investigating the effect that phone hacking and media invasion of privacy has had on celebrities over the years. The hearings were opened by Lord Justice Leveson on 14 November 2011, saying: “The press provides an essential check on all aspects of public life. That is why any failure within the media affects all of us. At the heart of this Inquiry, therefore, may be one simple question: who guards the guardians?”

The revelations have thrown not just the News of the World (NoW) into the limelight, but have questioned the way the UK press interact with celebrities. Other papers including the Daily Mail and The Guardian have been accused of stepping over the line between celebrity and privacy. It seems there are a few more people who could benefit from a Bluewood course in dealing with the media to refresh their memories on best practice in the press.

Amongst those giving evidence are Charlotte Church and Sienna Miller who both told of the intense nature of the British paparazzi and how they would go to extreme lengths to get a headline. Sienna spoke of how “I would often find myself – I was 21 – at midnight running down a dark street”. Both celebrities also told the inquiry about the effects of phone hacking on their personal lives. Not knowing how the press got hold of stories resulted in family arguments for the two young women and in Charlotte’s case her mother had attempted suicide “at least in part” because she had known the story was coming out.

The inquiry is also looking out the ruthless way that the press have attempted to gain information in such cases as the disappearance of schoolgirl Milly Dowler and also Madeleine McCann. Milly’s mother has said that she found it “terribly difficult to process” the fact that it was possible that a journalist deleted messages from her phone. Reporter Daniel Sanderson has apologised after obtaining a copy of Mrs McCann’s diary. She told the inquiry that she felt “violated” by the story and how her personal thoughts had been used in order to create a headline. Sanderson said that his public apology wasn’t “just for this inquiry. That’s because I’m genuinely sorry”.

The results of the Leveson inquiry into press ethics are yet to be seen. Perhaps the conclusion will be to form a new code of ethics for the press to follow or even result in outside regulation. The remit of the process is to: “make recommendations on the future of press regulation and governance consistent with maintaining freedom of the press and ensuring the highest ethical and professional standards”. What is certain is that the nature of the media will always generate the need to be press trained; but the inquiry is showing that even journalists need to know how to ‘operate’ and perhaps, a few also need to know the difference between right and wrong.

Written by Megan – – December 2011

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