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?

Speakers
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

Chair:
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
Recommended readings
Taming the tabloid beast: reining in the press after Hackgate

Phone-hacking has been recast as an aggravated invasion of individual privacy. The previous, ineffectual inquiries have been recast as the casualties of huge, dirty conspiracies of silence. Unfortunately, this pursuit of concerns about Murdoch’s companies is going to take lumps out of all of journalism. Like Larkin’s parents, it may not mean to, but it will.

Sean Bell, Independent, 8 October 2011

Defend a free press - don’t just guard the Guardian

Yes, the police threat to the liberal newspaper was outrageous – but who invited the authorities to crack down on the press in the first place?

Mick Hume, spiked, 27 September 2011

Labour's odd plan to get bad journalists 'struck off'

Ivan Lewis has a proposal to clean up the press. Shame it's unworkable and illiberal.

Helen Lewis Hasteley, New Statesmen, 27 September 2011

No, I'm not kidding. We really have to defend the Guardian

As a result of the hysteria surrounding phone hacking the demise of a few more newspapers may be hastened. And free speech and plurality of opinion will go the same way.

Richard Littlejohn, Daily Mail, 21 September 2011

If only phone hacking were the real scandal

The state’s abuse of power makes News of the World hacks look tame

Brendan O'Neill, Spectator, 20 August 2011

The evolution of a weird super-story

We are building a scaffold for investigative journalism out of the Dowlers’ suffering.

Sean Bell, Culture Wars, 17 August 2011

Will the dirty business of journalism survive hackgate?

These are uncertain times for journalists, not least those working at the Guardian stable, where the triumph of the phone hacking exposures has coincided with the announcement that the paper will now be a 'web first' news organisation.

Martin Bright, Spectator, 17 July 2011

Phone hacking: My big fear is this scandal could damage investigative journalism

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.

Andrew Gilligan, Daily Telegraph, 10 July 2011

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