POOR RUPERT MURDOCH has copped a lot of grief of late for his reporters' poking and probing in areas where the Caesar's wives of modern media say they should not have gone. And probably they are right, as it was a shocking and terrible thing to shatter the public's faith in cricket by having reporters go undercover to expose the corruption that characterised the Pakistani team. If the News of the World had hued to the same standards of quality journalism that make, say, the Fairfax and News Ltd press such titans in the trust business, that story would have been tossed into the discard bin with all the other things to which the the public has no need to alerted. All the Pakistanis need to have said is that they had explained everything in the past and would be making no further comment, which worked very nicely for our PM. And if reporters had persisted, well the now-disappeared Glenn Milne from News Limited and Mike Smith from Fairfax radio would have been waiting to extend a warm welcome when the latest crop of banned scribes was delivered to modern media's leprosarium.
Still, you have to give Rupert some credit. When the News of the World's good name became irredeemably fouled, he shut down the joint, which places him a few degrees to the plus side of probity against The Age, now mired in its own hacking scandal. Forget the delicious irony of a paper that serves as the house organ for the left finding itself beset by woes stemming from its spying on the left, which is but an amusing sideshow. The key thing to remember as this comedy unfolds is what happejned inside the Age office.
According to reports -- and it requires a bit of reading between the lines -- the investigative reporters were given the logons to Victorian Labor's voter database by an insider, so it could be reasonably argued that they did nothing wrong. If you are invited into someone's house, even by the resident delinquent child, you can hardly be charged with trespass.
What happened after that, or appears to have have happened, is somewhat more problematic. Again reading between the lines, it appears that, having logged on to the database, the reporters may well have allowed third parties in the newsroom to have a bit of fun by letting them look up the profiles of well known citizens, like 3AW's Neil Mitchell. Well that might be a lot harder to defend, a lot harder indeed -- just as it might prove equally challenging to ignore or explain away the anger of a young woman who tells today's Australian that Age sleuth Royce Millar violated her privacy, "kept trying to put words in my mouth" and how he struck her as "dodgy". With this in mind, it is worth re-visiting the Age's editorial of July 15, 2011, Why Media Ethics Really Matter.
...Quality journalism cannot exist without an ethical compass. The journalists and staff of this newspaper are bound by a comprehensive code of conduct that has long been available for the world to see. Not every situation can be foreseen, but the Fairfax code of conduct poses a dozen questions that would have ruled out the unethical and illegal behaviour that has been exposed in Britain. These include: ''Would I be proud of what I have done? Is it legal? Is it consistent with Fairfax's values, principles and policies? Do I think it's the right thing to do?'' and critically, in the context of information obtained by phone hacking, ''Are my actions transparent?''. In other words, was the means of obtaining the information disclosed?
The Age expects to be subjected to scrutiny just as it scrutinises others. We cannot help noticing, though, that News Limited has chosen this time to devote attention to The Age's legitimate reporting of political parties' use of databases of private information about voters. The false accusation of hacking reeks of a diversionary tactic. The Age's journalists acquired the information through a whistleblower with access to the Labor Party database. The articles were transparent in informing readers about these circumstances.
It is no longer just News Ltd raising questions about The Age's behaviour. Now it is the Victoria Electoral Commission demanding answers (and the police demanding computers) and one of the quoted "victims" of the ALP's data-gathering complaining of a reporter's alleged attempt to verbal her.
So please, Mr Hywood, give serious thought to following Murdoch's example: Close the Age or, better yet, fire the editor, his senior cohort and re-launch the paper, preferably with an apology for having allowed a venerable Melbourne institution to be debased by bias and commentary masquerading as reporting.
Melbourne could do with a good newspaper. What a pity we do not have one.