Taming the tabloid beast: reining in the press after Hackgate?

Tuesday 18 October, 7.30pm until 9.00pm, Bellerbys College, 1 Billinton Way, Brighton, East Sussex BN1 4LF

The revelation that murder victim Milly Dowler’s phone had been hacked caused a scandal that sparked a raft of political inquiries into controlling the press with new laws and regulations. But can we really muzzle tabloid newshounds at the same time as protecting the techniques of investigative journalism that speaks truth to power? While those who sought to limit the influence of Rupert Murdoch and expose illegal red top practices might see the closing of the News of the World as a victory for responsible reporting, further revelations of police complicity and widespread use of private investigators to steal information threaten all of Fleet Street. Has understandable disgust at the treatment of the Dowler family been used to justify a crackdown on journalism by the very people it is supposed to investigate?

In the name of the public, politicians and judges are considering the biggest reorganisation of journalism in the modern era, but do ordinary people really want this? The public did not complain about hacking when stolen information revealed the MPs’ expenses racket or the ‘Climategate’ scandal, or when WikiLeaks exposed war crimes. Do Hugh Grant, Paul McCartney and Max Mosley really represent the people?

However politicians may exploit the scandal, many people do not trust a press that is obsessed with celebrity; even the broadsheets, the supposedly quality newspapers, seem to follow a similar news agenda to the red tops, picking up the tabloid droppings and processing them into more acceptable forms. Some say it’s not the newspapers’ fault that journalism got small: the internet and so-called citizen journalism have forced them to give the public what it’s interested in, not what is in its interest. If the press merely reflects what the public wants, all this is our fault. So if we get the press we deserve, should we also get the press regulation we deserve, even if it means curbing press freedom? Or is there a case to be made for giving the press free rein - within the law - even if the results are sometimes unedifying?

Sean Bell
secretary and founder member, The Brighton Salon; copy-editor, writer and journalist

Neil Davenport
sociology and politics teacher; writer on culture; former music journalist

Coral James O'Connor
lecturer in broadcast & multimedia journalism, University of Brighton

Bob Satchwell
director of the Society of Editors since its foundation in 1999; former associate editor, Lancashire Evening Post, assistant editor, News of the World and an award-winning editor, Cambridge Evening News

David Bowden
associate fellow, Academy of Ideas; culture writer

Produced by
Sean Bell secretary and founder member, The Brighton Salon; copy-editor, writer and journalist
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Taming the tabloid beast: reining in the press after Hackgate

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Sean Bell, Independent, 8 October 2011

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Helen Lewis Hasteley, New Statesmen, 27 September 2011

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In my career as a journalist I have lied, I have received stolen goods, and for these things I have won two of the top awards in the profession.

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