I am guessing it must feel pretty shitty to be a journalist right now. The phone-hacking revelations of the last few days has shone a bright light into the sometimes murky world of journalism and it’s not been pretty. Listening in to voicemails of desperate and grieving people or abducted children is just plain wrong and those that did it, sanctioned it, or just knew about it but did nothing should rightly be vilified.
It is important however that we don’t tar every journalist, or even most journalists, with the same brush. Just like politicians (who felt the same glare into their archaic expenses systems not so long ago) the vast majority of those working in the press are hard-working, diligent and honest. They also do an essential job in preserving democracy and holding those in power to account.
Whilst we are pouring scorn on their profession, we should remember it was journalists who discovered and broke this story – without them we would all still be in the dark. And it is not just on this occasion – MP’s expenses, Westland, Profumo to name but three other major scandals of the last 60years that in all likelihood would have remained secret without good journalism. Away from political scandal for a moment as I write this tens of thousands of people are dying of starvation in Africa, millions more have been displaced. I only know this because of journalists who are willing to go out to countries like Ethiopia, Somalia and Kenya to dig out stories and bring back to the UK. The same happened back in the mid-1980’s when Michael Burke presented a series of short news pieces from Ethiopia – thank to those films the public started to engage in international development and fundraising events like Live Aid and, of course, Comic Relief, were born.
Yes some journalists are bad and dishonest, but then what profession doesn’t have a few bad apples? And yes, sometimes even good journalists, in fact, especially good journalists will use morally debatable means to get to a story – but if that means we know that Chris Huhne is a liar, or that Nixon was corrupt then it is the price we pay for holding power to account.