Summer School lecturers: phone hacking case could lead to change

The continued importance of investigative reporting has been brought to the fore thanks to the recent work of Guardian journalist Nick Davies, who exposed the News of the World’s phone hacking practices, prompting public inquiries into the newspaper and its owner, Rupert Murdoch’s New Corporation, as well as the work of the police.

Davies, who will lecture at the upcoming BIRN Summer School of Investigative Reporting, has been praised for his work and for standing up against Murdoch’s extremely powerful media machine.

According to fellow BIRN Summer School lecturer Sheila Coronel, Director and Professor of Professional Practice at Colombia University’s Toni Stabile Center for Investigative Journalism, “today we are seeing the unraveling of one of the most powerful global media empires. The phone hacking scandal has had repercussions not just in the UK, but in the US as well, where Murdoch’s Fox News network lords it over the cable channels. US investigators are now looking into possible violations of US law. The FBI has been asked to investigate whether News Corp subsidiaries hacked phones in the US as well. We may well be seeing the end of the Murdoch era.”

Also speaking about the importance and ramifications of this story, another BIRN Summer School lecturer, Paul Bradshaw, insists: “This is a bigger story than MPs’ expenses, because this is about the system itself, not just its abuse. It is bigger than Wikileaks, because that was about truth and this is about change…”

Bradshaw, best known as the publisher of the Online Journalism Blog and a professor of online journalism in the UK, insists that the cards could fall in any number of ways. “Regulation of the press is obviously the area of most concern: the Press Complaints Commission and the press itself have been heading this way for some time now, so they cannot complain if things change. Government is making reassuring noises in framing their inquiry into regulation around protecting plurality and independence, but there’s also a suggestion that they are seeking to control the BBC further. Whatever press regulation regime we get is likely to be tougher, however, and may well seek to regulate online journalism more consistently too.”

He continues: “Ownership is the other major area being looked at, with talk of a numerical test being used to proactively ensure individual companies do not dominate the media, rather than intervening only when companies merge or are bought – although this plays in sharp contradiction to policy around local TV, for example, which explicitly talks about relaxing media ownership rules.

“Whatever happens, this is the biggest opportunity to reshape the political landscape that the media operate in – both for those who seek to ensure freedom and diversity of speech and for those who would seek to control the press. Both will be fighting hard for their cause,” concluded Bradshaw.