Phone hacking was just a symptom of a deeper problem

Steve Hewlett has a perceptive pieceabout the Leveson inquiry in today’s Guardian.

Leaving aside questions about tabloid techniques and intrusion – which are plainly serious enough in their own right – so much of what we heard last week had rather more to do with fiction than fact. The picture that emerges is of legions of tabloid foot soldiers – reporters, paparazzi and private detectives – prepared to do almost anything to get the “story”. In other words, to gather material to illustrate and support something the desk – the editors back at base – had already decided is true.

Again, there won’t be anyone who has ever worked in journalism who won’t instinctively understand this phenomenon – which, incidentally, is far from being restricted to the tabloids or even to newspapers.

For the working journalist, the world is full of editors and proprietors (not to mention channel controllers and commissioning editors) prepared to settle for nothing less than proof of the correctness of what they thought all along. Journalists also know that the price of failure to deliver what the boss demands can be very high indeed.

Spot on. Which explains why calls for ‘ethical’ standards in British journalism are doomed to fail. Such calls assume that journalism in Britain is a profession (with all that implies in terms of professional standards, etc.) It’s not a profession at all — just a trade grafted onto a ruthlessly competitive industry. In a way the miracle is not that UK tabloid standards are so low, but that the country still has some good journalists who still have some ethical standards.