So what are the Australian implications of the News of the World scandal? This morning I was contacted by CNN, keen to find out all about how Rupert Murdoch operates in Australia. They wanted an interview to explore “Rupert Murdoch’s origins and rise to power in Australia and how he and his empire are perceived throughout Asia”.
Is any more proof needed that the News of the World affair has besmirched the international reputation of the company?
Today John Hartigan, the CEO of News Limited — the Australian arm of the international empire — put out a statement which can be read here.
Meanwhile, leading New York journalism academic Jay Rosen has been Tweeting mysteriously as follows:
“If the story of criminal intimidation tactics at News Ltd. in Australia ever came out, today’s events in the UK would look different.”
When asked for details, Rosen refuses to say more, but insists he is sincere and not merely being mischievous.
Rosen will be in Australia at the end of August, speaking at the New News 2011 conference, run by the Foundation for Public Interest Journalism Foundation (which I chair) and the Melbourne Writers Festival.
So what’s he on about? I haven’t a clue, but he seems to be talking about more than the Julie Posetti defamation controversy, which, while nasty, hardly amounted to criminal intimidation.
August could be a torrid time for News Limited not only because, as reported in the Fairfax media today, the Greens are pressing the government to take probity and the News of the World scandal into account in awarding the Australia Network contract.
In the next few weeks, The Monthly magazine will publish, in its August issue, a 7000-word profile of Chris Mitchell, editor-in-chief of The Australian, written by investigative journalist Sally Neighbour. Details of the profile are being kept under close wraps, but it is thought by The Monthly to be a significant piece, likely to alter the texture of debate around that man’s intervention in public life.
And, out of the same Black Inc stable, there will soon be a Quarterly Essay by Robert Manne on The Australian, which also will contain new material.
But meanwhile, let’s return to Hartigan’s statement, issued today.
Hartigan describes phone hacking as “a terrible slur on our craft” and adopts the words of the London Times editorial, saying that the events at NotW do not reflect what News International is about.
Hartigan goes on to refer to the News Limited code of professional conduct, which “is the guiding principle to everything we do”.
I couldn’t help but smile. Hands up, all you reporters working in News Limited newspapers who have never heard of the code, never been given a copy and never been encouraged to read it.
Hands up all of you who wonder how it is that some provisions, such as those about the appropriate boundaries between public and private, don’t seem to apply in all circumstances, or to all editors and titles?
I know the code quite well. It is not a bad code. But to suggest that it is at the heart of how journalists understand their jobs at News Limited is pure fiction.
And, if it is so important to the trust between journalists and audiences, where is the publicly available copy, so that everyone can see how Murdoch expects his Australian troops to behave, and so they can be held to account?
You certainly won’t find it with a Google. Only insiders get a copy, and believe me, even that can be a struggle.
It is interesting that Hartigan also mentions the Media, Entertainment and Arts Alliance Code, but does not mention the Australian Press Council.
Yet that latter body, having been cut to ribbons a few years ago, has been undergoing quiet reform under its chairman, Julian Disney, who has managed to get more money from the industry and also outside sources, namely the Myer Foundation.
Disney told me yesterday that the council has begun a new project, aimed at making the Press Council standards clearer and more specific.
Thanks to the News of the World scandal, the council has made a priority the review of its General Principle 5, which deals with information obtained by dishonest or unfair means. At present the standard says such information should not be used unless there is an overriding public interest.
Disney says: “A key aim aim will be to state more specifically, and practically, what this means in different contexts. This will require, amongst other things, detailed consultations with the media industry and, very importantly, the broader community.”
Well we can all look forward to that, and, presumably, to Hartigan’s enthusiastic leading role.
And how did Hartigan respond, one wonders, to Rebekah Brooks at the last international News Corporation conference? Particularly given her admission years ago that News of the World paid police for information?
And how will The Australian’s media section report all these events next Monday, given that News Limited newspapers locally have so far drastically underplayed what is surely one of the biggest media stories, and one of the biggest stories about power, politics and governance, this decade?
So many more boots to drop, I think, before this affair is over. And some of them will drop in Australia.