I’m midway through moving from Switzerland to Australia, so it’s a quick post today. The UK is currently dealing with a phone hacking scandal, wherein newspapers have been found to have illegally hacked the voice messages and SMS’s of various people, from celebrities to families of deceased soldiers. I haven’t followed the debacle very closely, but I did note with interest the witness statement of comedian and actor Steve Coogan. Here are some highlights:
In March 1996 a journalist phoned my daughters great-grandmother, who was in her eighties at the time. The reporter pretended to be doing a survey for the council but asked
increasingly personal questions about me and about my daughters
mother. When challenged, the reporter admitted she was from the
Daily Mirror. She insisted that this was the way things were done
and urged the old lady to ‘spill the beans so it would be over with’.
The Mirror had apparently obtained the phone number by copying
the senders address from the back of a letter in the communal
lobby of my flat. …
Over the years. journalists and photographers have frequently
camped outside my house day and night, watching who comes and
goes (the News of the Worlds Paul was one of them). Sometimes I have been alerted to this by generous neighbours knocking on my door to let me know about ‘the men in the cars with cameras’ outside my home. Some of these reporters have gone through the rubbish in my bins, and some have followed me in cars when I left home.
I am bringing civil action in relation to the hacking into my
voicemail. In addition to the hacking evidence, I have seen
evidence in Glenn Mulcaire’s notebook of amounts of money I have withdrawn from cash machines, and details of hotel bills I have paid and the payment method used. lt is a staggering intrusion into my (or for that matter, anyones) privacy.
You can find the entire statement here, and it makes very interesting reading. It says a lot about the British tabloids that The Mirror reported Coogan’s witness statement under the headline “Steve Coogan: ‘I’m not a paragon of virtue. I just do what I want’”. Unbelievable.
This is wrong on a number of levels. Firstly, a number of tabloids have responded that celebrities have used the media to achieve fame, and so have signed away their privacy in exchange for success. This is nonsense. Tabloids do not make movie stars. Movies make movie stars. Acting talent is not purchased at the expense of basic human rights. Further, many of the victims were not celebrities, but grieving parents.
The media is not an optional extra in modern society. They play an important role in democracies, as they are charged with investigating our representatives, drawing on critical journalism to cut through the spin. Even with the Leveson inquiry, it’s hard to see how the situation will change until the newspaper-buying-public votes with its money and sends the message that a newspaper which wastes its credibility on celebrity trivia will be stay on the stand.