Thursday, October 6, 2011

Boundaries, Anyone?

News of the World, is termed as “the greatest newspaper of all time” on its website. Not sure if it can be considered as the greatest, but definitely one of the most controversial. News of the World has been used as an example everywhere for how unethical its reportage was. It not only broke all journalistic laws but also hurt the sentiments of a large number of people. The tabloid that had its first copy published in the year 1843. But since 2006 News of the World has been involved in a number of scandals, the major one being a series of phone hacking controversies causing it closure in 2011. The numbers of phone hacking scandals the paper has been involved in and that have been revealed in the media are simply alarming. It shows the level to which newspapers will steep to just to stay on top.  
The tabloid was reported to have hired private detectives in order to gain access into the phones and voicemails of people and even celebrities that were of importance to the newspaper. The newspaper had information that other papers did not have. With the help of these private investigators the paper brought to light a number of celebrity affairs. The audience of the paper did not raise any voice till the paper revealed personal details of what was going on in the lives of celebrities like the David Beckham-Rebecca Loos affair etc. the audience felt that since they were public personalities their lives ought to be part of public scrutiny. But it was the last straw when after investigation it was discovered that the paper hacked into the voicemail of a 13-year old missing girl. They not only hacked her voicemail but also deleted messages about her murder. Since the message that she was murdered was deleted the parents of the girl still believed that their daughter was alive.
News of the World owned my media baron Rupert Murdoch. He stated that he wanted to make News of the world a paper that could be sold to the public. The paper resorted to checkbook journalism that is a form of getting news that would be paid for. A lot of the sources of the news were police men, who were paid by the paper to reveal undisclosed information . Murdoch also used his paper to openly back politicians like James Cameron, Margaret Thatcher, Tony Blair etc. A number of reporters of the newspaper openly admitted that everyone working in the paper knew how news was acquired. After the scandal was revealed about 200 employees of the paper were fired.
The scandal rocked the media industry world over and made it question the grounds and the basic principles that should be used to obtain actual news. It is the true that in today’s generation with so many media outlets like the print, online, television and alternate the race to be on top and acquire news first is stiff, but the question to be asked is that how far one will go in this race to be on top. There are news media all over the world that resort to some or the other way of unethical way of getting news, like by placing hidden cameras to spy on someone of interest to the public, sting operations, expose etc. Many newspapers in India also resort to sting operations and expose to reveal to the people the underbelly of how things work, unless it is with regard to public interest the media has no right to undertake such operations. There is a a lot of difference between a sting operation that the media carried out in the case of actor Shakti Kapoor’s casting couch in the Bollywood film industry and the one that is currently being carried out to find perpetrators of female feticides in clinics. One is an example of negative sting operations and the other is that of a positive one that will be of benefit to society. In a democracy like India the media plays a very strong and important role, but it takes that role for granted sometimes. It becomes biased, one-sided, and might also break journalistic laws.
The lives of celebrities are in the limelight all the time, people refuse to believe that they to are human beings in need of their space and privacy. People constantly want to know what is going on in the lives of their favourite celebrities. A newspapers explanation to this is that we give people what they want to read/listen to. It is a drug peddler’s argument, meaning that- a customer is asking for drugs, I’m just giving it to him. In this context newspapers impart what news people want, and they are just giving their audience what they ask for.
News of the world went over board with it s reporting of the happenings in the lives of people they thought were important to the newspaper. A lot of these people were innocent victims to the phone hacking scandal. There will be a lot of media out there that still resort to unethical means of acquiring news. If privacy laws are made more stringent there will be more harsh ways that the media will use to get information.
The media should learn to keep to their boundaries and distinguish between what is right and wrong, and question what lines should be crossed in acquiring news.  The only difference between the News of the World and other media is that the News of the World got caught, and it will only be a matter of time before other such media are exposed. 

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