Tuesday, July 5, 2011

The Media Hacks

Could there be a more appropriate word for this whole scandal than the hacking scandal? Hack by name...

The media confuses me, makes me despair, frustrates me and inspires me... it's long been a whirlwind of arguments in my mind as to the purpose, success and future of the media. If you're not aware of the latest claims buzzing around; something a little more serious than someone listening to the voicemails of Sienna Miller has occurred... according to reports, during the investigation into the disappearance of Milly Dowler, her voicemail messgaes were intercepted and deleted by journalists supposedly operating on behalf of the News of the World.

Utterly incredible.

For me, this speaks volumes about the state of the world news delivery system; delivering the story has taken precedent over justice, unless this has serious consequences for those involved. Surely this is a case of perverting the course of justice?

For me, the invention of the internet is one of the biggest steps forward in helping people to be unbiasedly informed... so long as they have the time to be able to read several different viewpoints on whatever situation they are trying to research. For those people without the initiative, or the hours, to spend poring over different publications, we have a tailored view of the world all ready for us in our tipple of choice.

How do you like to hear about the world? In slang with a naked woman to cushion any serious stories? There's a paper for you... In high falutin speak with extra big pages to make you seem important? There's a paper for you... In a paper that very much likes to be seen as straight down the middle, but is just as subject to sales and circulation figures as anything else...?

I believe we have two choices really; either accept that any way of being informed comes with an agenda, or live in a box and willingly know nothing about the world other than that which happens in your immediate vicinity. If you accept that you want to know about the world, then you also have to accept that the people delivering to you are going to want to be the first, the best and the most detailed... to what extent are you willing to let them try and succeed?

On the other side; what happens when the print moves a story off the front page because it's no longer selling properly and people are a little bored of it. Libya is still just as turbulent whether people tell us about it or not, but how does the public as a whole maintain its international priorities without some kind of regulation on what constitutes a front page story.

Once you try and regulate the media, you start getting into very hot water. Personally, I couldn't care less that Cheryl and Ashley are back together/were back together/sit with their backs together... but it was a front page story at the weekend.

Can we say that we think this is complete crap and it shouldn't happen? Or do we say that enough people must have bought it to encourage the paper that it was a good idea and therefore public consensus is that this is a perfectly legitimate front page story? Do we run with the argument that media should be horses for courses and this is exactly why there are so many different papers? And is anyone monitoring the effect on awareness, sensationalism and media effect leading stories rather than reporting them, that competition between channels, stations and prints has?

In the job that I'm in now there's Sky news on all day in the reception. I've watched hours on end of the coverage of the Duke and Duchess visiting Canada. Do you know how many times I've watched William land a helicopter on water? It really does look like a helicopter landing on water. My response was, "Wow, I didn't realise this was such a big deal." But, was I wrong to think that? Has the fact that this is achieving so much media coverage changed my own perception of the event? I didn't care before, it didn't affect me, but now, instead of being disbelieving that it could achieve so much attention, I've decided I must have been wrong about my initial outlook.

"ink", the play I've written for the Edinburgh Fringe this year, is entirely focused on what it's like to be in the centre of a media storm. It's about the son of 7/7 victim - an entirely fictional person I might add - who is struggling to deal with the media's influence on all aspects of his life. The ownership over the death of his father was given to a city and a nation and a religion, he didn't know how to reconcile what was happening to his life against what was being printed.

The biggest reservation about the whole show that I have had since the concept occurred to me, was whether or not I had any right to write it. I have no connection to London, 7/7, media exploitation or grief in this context. Was it intrusive or offensive to people involved for me to speculate in this way?

Obviously I got over my reservations; for me, the show is about my character and about his individual response. It's not a commentary on the events themselves. It's a fictional situation with topical backgrounding.

It does get you thinking though, if the actual people charged with reporting the stories have given themselves a license to interfere in such a cruel and intrusive manner, where is the line for investigative journalism? Is the price of a free press a corrupt press or is there a way to take the competition out of reporting in the interests of reporting simply news?

Whatever the future for this, I'm sure the past has always been the same. No town cryer ever had a lack of vested interest I'm sure. But if there aren't severe consequences for not only hacking, but deleting these voicemail messages, then we're in trouble because we're not listening to reporters, we're listening to authors.

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