Wednesday 26 July 2017

The News that wasn't fit to print

The Mail stunt over the Tribune front page shows the press in Ireland has to be on its guard to preserve good journalism, writes Alastair Campbell

I WAS in Dublin when the closure of the Sunday Tribune was announced. On the Sunday of its demise I went to the restaurant of the Merrion Hotel restaurant for breakfast, and was surprised to see a copy of the Tribune waiting for me by the door. I picked it up, settled down to breakfast, and started to read it. It turned out to be a complete con, a four-page wraparound by the Mail on Sunday -- a paper I refuse to allow in the house, on the same grounds that I would not let our dog foul the carpet -- exploiting the demise of another paper. Irish journalists were rightly up in arms.

But nobody should have been surprised. As we have seen from the phone-hacking scandal, some journalists will stop at nothing to get a story. And some newspapers will stop at nothing to get a few more readers. Even now, amid all their crocodile tears about the demise of the News of the World, its rivals will be merrily strategizing to pick up those suddenly left without their favourite Sunday tabloid next week.

I tell the story about the Tribune to remind you, amid the fallout of a scandal which has convulsed the media, the Metropolitan Police and the current occupant of Downing Street, that the newspaper industry has always been a rough, tough place full of buccaneering characters and sharp practices. But something has changed that we get to a situation where someone, anyone, feels justified in hacking the phones of teenage murder victims, families of the victims of terrorist attacks, or families of soldiers killed while fighting for their country. When this was all about the phones of people in showbiz, professional sport and politics -- myself included -- the public may have thought it was wrong because it was illegal, and interesting because there were famous actresses and footballers involved. But they didn't lose sleep about it. The latest revelations became the tipping point in public opinion because people realised this could happen to anyone, and that means them. It happened because with newspapers under enormous pressure from the broadcast media and the internet, the practices have become sharper. The extent of criminal activity at the News of the World has only recently become clear, and has revealed that for some, there are literally no moral boundaries. And once the inquiry announced belatedly by David Cameron begins, I believe it will become equally clear that they were far from being alone in trading in illegal practices and illegally obtained information.

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