Current Journalism Students in University have a new module to take, that their predecessor did not have: ethics. The appearance of this new class can be easily explained by the big turn that occurred in the British Press around three years ago with the Leveson’s Inquiry. It was ordered on the 8th of July 2011 by the Prime Minister David Cameron because of a previous scandal including revelations of phone hacking in 2005 and a spread of law-breaking acts by the parts of the press. This Inquiry was led by Lord Justice Leveson, and divided in two parts consisting firstly into a full investigation in the press and secondly in a review of press’ regulations.
The scandal of phone hacking date back to 2005, when the newspaper “The News of the World” published a story about Prince William and his knee injury. Its publication was quickly followed by complaints from the royal court that pointed out that some voicemail messages had been intercepted. With these complaints a police inquiry had been opened. As the investigation went through, the police went from two arrests, to evidences of a great number of journalists using the phone-hacking method and an important number of victims. In 2011, the Prime Minister David Cameron ordered the Inquiry to ensure that “all of the press, the police and the politicians serve the public”.
It is true that we might argue that in this phone-hacking case, they mostly went after celebrities, sportsmen but also individuals who were related to an event which made the news. For example, the police report showed that in the information found, there was some about the parents of the two little girls victims of the Soham murders. However, phone hacking stays an illegal practice that can be consider as an intrusion in the private life, which is by definition, suppose to stay in the private circle.
Nevertheless, this investigation was used to reinstall a trust between the media and the public, as well as preventing other scandals by reviewing the press’ laws that dated from the 17th century. This attempt can be consider as an attempt to reassure the public about the independence of the press. So, even if most
parts of ethics can be considered as common sense, when journalists are facing their editor, they might be doing illegal acts because they haven’t been educated about this notion. The report of this Inquiry led to the change that we know in the press as well as in the education of future journalists. This scandal created a desire to be able to avoid another one, and for that students in journalism are taught to think by themselves on different cases so that the notion of ethic is already in their mind before they even start working.
Finally, even if the phone-hacking scandal was a disastrous event, and it destroyed the trust between media and public, it might has been needed so that the press could move forward and improve itself.
To learn more :
timeline of the Leveson’s Inquiry : http://www.theinformationdaily.com/2012/11/29/leveson-inquiry-the-timeline
the effect of the inquiry : http://www.jamesdenselow.com/other-articles/the-leveson-inquiry-changing-the-british-media-landscape