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No Tears At Funeral For News of the World

But Larry Neild fears we will end up mourning the demise of press freedom

Written by . Published on July 11th 2011.

No Tears At Funeral For News of the World

AS a young freelance writer. I once had a page lead in the News of the World. The fee from the editor of the world’s top selling newspaper was modest, but was still more than everything else I had earned that week added together.

The story was about a ring of gymslip Lolitas from Halewood - they regularly headed down to the Pier Head and sold sexual favours for as little as ten shillings and sixpence, that’s just 52p or half a guinea in really old money. This group of girls were aged just 10 to 14.

We may well end up with a media
treading so carefully in the future
that things that ought to be made
public may remain hidden and
wrong-doers will escape exposure

It was unbelievable to see this gathering of around a dozen youngsters, all paraded before the juvenile court on a summons, saying they were in need of care and protection.

The NOTW has always had a reputation for publishing stories aimed at shocking readers, and exposing wrongdoing. Now it is no more.

Journalism is in the dock, but there is a risk the world will be a less safe place in post-NOTW Britain.

What the paper did was unbelievable, taking information-gathering to new depths in a way that has shocked the world and stunned journalists everywhere.

Newspapers have a fine tradition of exposing things that others, particularly those in power or from the establishment, would prefer to stay hidden.

I’ve been handed many documents stamped Private and Confidential, leaked by politicians or officials who believed something was so important it needed to be in the public domain.

But money has always changed hands, from the days when an army of people we called “earwigs” monitored police radios and earned tip-off money when they picked up an amazing tit-bit that sent reporters off on the scent of a hot story.

More recently, the mole who first leaked, for a fee, those MP expenses’ details to the Daily Telegraph, did a valuable service. Most people still read newspapers, particularly those crammed with exposes of wrongdoing and gossip, but do those readers ever stop for one moment to wonder where that dynamite info comes from?

Read the exclusives on the sports pages – it can easily be assumed the Fleet Street accounts departments have played a large part in obtaining the goss. 

The reality is journalists often swirl around in this grey area, a no-man’s land where their paths become entangled with those of politicians, police officers, people in public life; where stories are brokered, sometimes for cash. In more than 90 percent of the time the end justifies the means – even if the means were suspect or downright illegal.

The arrival of the internet has generated an insatiable appetite for hot gossip to feed a population desperate for the low-down on a 24/7 basis. News is the new gold, and the price varies depending on the quality of the information.

The forthcoming public inquiries into the media, announced by David Cameron, may well dig deep into the very heart of a journalistic tradition which will cause an information equivalent of a cardiac arrest.

Will that line, which determines where public interest begins and illegality ends, be redrawn.

We may well end up with a media treading so carefully in the future that things that ought to be made public may remain hidden and wrong-doers will escape exposure.

Even in the more cautious local papers, the receipt of brown envelopes containing illicitly acquired documents has been explosive. That needs to continue.

The NOTW has dramatically fallen onto its sword for the shameful way it has behaved, and few tears will be shed. But maybe we should all shed a few tears for the nails that have this week been hammered into the coffin of a free and inquiring press willing to go where others fear to tread to uncover secrets, which those who often control all of our lives, prefer to remain under wraps.

Forget the potential reasons by the Murdoch family for this act of publishing euthanasia, freedom itself has been dealt a body blow.

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10 comments so far, continue the conversation, write a comment.

AnonymousJuly 11th 2011.

Did some subbing shifts at the NOTW many years ago. Sexing up a piece of writing with untruths was actively encouraged, especially if there was no possibility of the subjects of the story suing for libel (expensive and no Legal Aid back then). A tough call for many of us if you wanted to get paid for your shift. Never got asked back...

AnonymousJuly 11th 2011.

Many people are dancing on the grave of the NOTW, but there are people in power doing a fan-dangle, quick step and tango all rolled into one. I agree few will mourn the passing of this newspaper, but the fallout will affect all of us. Grubby hands are already being rubbed in glee that people will escape the prying eyes of the press. What a sad day for democracy.

Angie Sammons shared this on Facebook on July 11th 2011.
Angie Sammons shared this on Facebook on July 11th 2011.
Angie Sammons shared this on Facebook on July 11th 2011.
Sheena PowellJuly 12th 2011.

Press freedom is crucially important, I don't think anyone dsputes that, but the press in England is dominated by Murdoch and the likes of Paul Dacre (of the Daily Mail) and Conrad Black- even in prison, he wields a lot of malign influence. As for Richard Desmond.... I don't think any of them are fit to run a whelk stall, let alone wield so much power. The PCC was smug, complacent and useless, so there has to be a regulator with some teeth to keep this motley crew from doing whatever they like without any hindrance.

Hubert NewbettJuly 12th 2011.

Then the game is over Sheena. Power instantly corupts, but you cannot gag a free press, just teach them a conscience. Don't forget, the Daily Mail have got away scot free with all of this so far and they have hacked into three times as many phones as the Screws did.

Reader XxxJuly 12th 2011.

Larry Neild is right - we have to worry about the freedom of the press. But first things first. It was many years ago that playright Denis Potter appeared on television, taking occasional sips of liquid morphine to relieve the pain of the cancer he would soon die from, and said "Go home Mr Murdoch. Go home". I hope Denis is looking down on the events of the last few days. It looks as if, at long last, Mr Murdoch is about to do just that.

MikeJuly 18th 2011.

Press freedom -OK. they need to be taught ethics. Lives can be destroyed by nods and winks from the press.
NOTW? The biter bit!

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