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There is a new story in town: the phone-hacking scandal. To cut a long story short, it seems that all the scoops made by some newspapers over the last twelve years (News Of The World, the Sun and the Sunday Times) have been published because some ruthless journalists have managed to hack into private phones. I wasn’t born yesterday and I know that there is no such thing as a free scoop, but where has real investigative journalism gone?

I am not talking about a small size scheme here. From the latest news, it looks like approximately 4000 (yes, four thousands) persons might have been the unfortunate victims of phone hacking.  In short, it was an industrial organisation, almost comparable to the Government Communications Headquarters based in Cheltenham. Apparently there was some sort of police investigation into this matter in 2002, but eventually the case was dropped, because the priority was to fight terrorism. As a result, the phone hacking went on, unpunished.
But this pathetic story doesn’t stop here. Families of victims (7/7 victims in particular)–or even victims themselves- were targeted, and, their phone were hacked. Is this what freedom of press is about?
The funny thing is that, being French, I am all about the independence of the press. In France, the press is by no mean independent and the best way to be informed is to actually know and talk to journalists rather than read the newspapers. If you don’t believe me, here are a couple examples:
      –     Francois Mitterrand was well-known for ordering the French secret services to hack into sexy actresses’ phones so that he could try to seduce them later. No one reported it until years later. Furthermore, he had a natural daughter, Mazarine and she was living at the taxpayers’ expense in one of the state properties. All the journalists knew. No one said anything.
      –   More recently, Nicolas Sarkozy,  the French president, had an editor sacked because he had dared to publish a picture of his ex-wife Cecilia with her then-lover, Richard Attias.
As a result, most French newspapers are pretty dull (journalists need to make sure they please their ultimate masters) and, funnily enough, very condescending.

In short, one of the few things I used to admire when I moved to London was the press. They are ruthless and the tabloids are full of kiss-and-tell stories (of disputable taste) but, naively, I thought that the journalists were just doing their job and, to an extent, working in the public best interest. I loved the way they were grilling politicians and personalities. Now I am not so sure. It is all about making a profit and increasing the sales. If you need to listen to the conversation of the family of a murdered girl, then so be it. One day you can say something and the next the opposite. It doesn’t matter. It is all about increasing the sales. Where have honesty and hard work gone?
Neither the French nor the Anglo Saxon model seems to work. So, what’s next? Do we need a stronger regulator of the press? I don’t really believe in regulators –in the short term, they just lead to more bureaucracy and they all seem to get very cosy with the business they are supposed to regulate over time. Or do we just need to go back to good, old-fashioned values of honesty and ethics (I sound like my Grandma and I hate it, but that would be my preferred option). I simply don’t know and would like to have your views on this. How did we let this happen?
Muriel – A French Yummy Mummy In London
  • I vote for “go back to good, old-fashioned values of honesty and ethics.” The question, of course, is how to get there – what to do with those who prefer to take the short cut.

    The Golden Rule might be helpful here.

    On a side note, I’ve perversely enjoyed this story because for a moment i takes mind off how screwed up the US is.

  • Yes, honesty, ethics…integrity. All these are ‘old-fashioned’ values but the fact that they continue to be important must mean something, right? The problem these days is that everyone wants power but very few know how to wield that power. It’s in having enlightened principles guiding that sense of power that defines the line between ‘scum’ and ‘honor’.

  • Impending earthquakes, Tsunamis, hurricanes, the debt & financial crises, and maybe a little insight on public figures running for office, and maybe tidbits on international wars… though I wish that would cease…the public has a right to be informed about.

    Good News!!!… Shows showing in town, upcoming book releases, new store openings, Nobel Peace Prize winners… stuff like that…fine… we want to know about.

    This stuff of chasing down the private details of average citizens lives, which includes celebrities and public figures too… such as the singer going to rehab, the ex-governor and his mistresses, along with Uncle Sammie running around town in his underwear, or even the big bad wolf stalking little frightened helpless people DOES NOT need to be put on blast for all the world, or the local public to oogle over. It has become a sickness that makes me sick.

    Yes, I thought a long, long time ago we needed to get back to the basics… the good old golden old days.

  • This is an excellent post Muriel, extremely well written and raising highly pertinent questions. You have the advantage of viewing things from both sides of the Channel and this adds to the your credibility and strength as a writer. I immediately put this post on my Facebook wall and look forward to further dialogue.

  • Another wonderful post. You are a fabulous writer and this post is another example of your ability to express yourself through your writing. I think we need to go back to a time of trust and honesty. It is what I expect from a journalist unless I am reading a tabloid…..not sure what they are called in London.

  • I am truly appalled that (once I leave the office) nobody wants to hack me! Seriously though this is serious but having seen the never ending tribunals in Ireland gobble up millions, take years to go nowhere and compromise criminal prosecutions I am not sure we shouldn’t adopt the Italian system. You know how it works, throw them into jail first and let them prove their innocence!

  • I heard about this (I think on Real Time with Bill Maher) and it’s just appalling. All those wiretaps, all those people’s privacy being played with. It’s disgusting. I would say it happened because people just don’t care who they hurt in order to get ahead anymore. Sad really.

  • “Or do we just need to go back to good, old-fashioned values of honesty and ethics (I sound like my Grandma and I hate it, but that would be my preferred option)”

    AMEN. I hope these recent events serve as a wake up call to society.

  • Hi, Muriel! I’m afraid these kind of things are happening everywhere. In Spain, it’s more or less the same. And not only with newspapers but with some horrible TV programmes, which broadcast just rubbish. I’am really ashamed when by chance (because I hate that sort of programmes) I listen to what they are talking about those called ‘journalists’ just for increasing audiences.

    Have a good day.

  • Isn’t it sad how we’ve allowed money to ruin our lives?
    Money and power.

  • ABC News just reported that people are resigning over the scandal. But, it’s sickening to think how long they got away with it, Muriel. I can’t imagine how horrible it must be for those whose privacy was violated.

  • We need to go back to the point of honesty and ethics. The public have a right to know everything but that is not at the cost of privacy. We want news not sensationalism; and sensation is what may attract eyeballs of the public, but at what cost. Are we ready to sacrifice ourselves for the sake of others; our morals; our ethics…is gathering news done by peeking into others houses…. that makes for an interesting thought!

  • Stories like this make me so glad I live a life of non-interest to the public (well, except my few wonderful loyal blog readers)… and maybe I’m naive to think they don’t want to hack my phones… ahahaha.
    I think it is apalling, yes, but in the end… stuff like this wouldn’t exist if the public didn’t want it enough to pay for it, read it, watch it, etc., right?

  • I do think the whole thing is very shady and very deep – I wonder if it will all come out in the end. Of course we need a free and inquisitive press but there are limits. Great post

  • Hi Muriel –

    There is no such thing as “Free Press” and there never had been and never will be. I would also like to inform you that every phone in the world is monitored. Trust me on that. Not a single transmission is private.

  • Outstanding post and it raises quite a question.

    I’ve been following this hacking scandal and I hate to see the demise (or should I say, the deliberate closure?) of the tabloid “News of the World” that has enlivened generations of Brits’ lives despite its often dubious journalistic tactics. But I do rejoice in the humbling of Rupert Murdoch, that sadistic news manipulator and arch enemy of honest journalism, even if only in a small way as most of his evil empire remains intact.

    Hacking in England is nothing new. It’s being going on for generations in one form or another – I remember two journalists jailed in the 60s. Even Watergate was a form of hacking. Hacking into personal lives is another matter – whether they be celebrities or victims, it’s always unjustified. That said, with the public clamoring for more and editors pressuring their journalists for scoops or else, some will go to any means to get a good story.

    Who is to blame? The public? The press? The government? Where does the buck stop? On the other hand, do we want to have to, as in France and many other countries, personally know journalists or important people to get the real inside story? Does the public need to know the real story? Would they be able to be objective about it? Who assesses the result?

    But can we return, in this modern world of instant communication and rampant (often unfounded) suspicions, to old, supposedly honest journalism? I think that is Utopian and what truly happened in this case was that Rupert Murdoch’s many enemies finally found a way to make a dent in his armored empire that I hope will hasten its demise as well though, unfortunately, I doubt it will be in his lifetime.