Monday 25 July 2011

The 2000th Test Cricket Match

I was at Lords on Saturday for the third day of the 1st Test between England and India.

I managed to see a good days cricket. England took 10 wickets, there was a century by India's Rahul Dravid, and I got to see one of the game's greatest ever batsmen in Sachin Tendulkar.

England won earlier today, to go one up in the four Test series. I've been looking forward to this series since the start of the year. It was great seeing England win the Ashes in Australia, but lets be honest the current Australia team is pretty weak.

India are now the number one Test team, and this series will be a true test of how good England really are. Judging by this first match, England could very soon become the new number one team in the world. They will do if they win the series by two matches.

If there was one thing I loved about my Lords visit, it was this. It reminded me just how good Test cricket can be. Yes 20/20 has it's place, but Test Match cricket is really where it's at. What it's really all about. Maybe I'm a traditionalist, a purist even - but Test cricket is just more interesting to watch.

It's certainly more interesting when you've got the two best teams in the world going head to head, and I can't wait for the next 3 games to come.

Monday 18 July 2011

Phone-Hacking: Where do I begin?

I’m so late following up on this story.

For the last week, I’ve been thinking so much about what I want to say on this phone-hacking scandal, but everyday there’s been a new revelation, and development, you just can’t keep up.

In saying that I’ve loved it. This is one of the most exciting news stories I’ve followed in years. Phone-hacking ticks so many boxes for me - politics, journalism, crime, celebrity, it’s the ultimate news story.

For a media news geek like myself the events of the last couple of weeks have been amazing! The country's biggest selling newspaper shut down. The world's leading press baron Rupert Murdoch battling to save his company and reputation. Some of Britain's top police officers and even our own Prime Minister David Cameron directly involved.

I've been following this story for two years, and it's still impossible to predict what will happen next or where this story will end.

Rupert Murdoch

I never imagined that one day I'd see Rupert Murdoch battling to save his media empire from collapsing. He's Britain’s most powerful newspaper owner, the world’s biggest press tycoon. How has it come to this?

For many liberal, left leaning, Guardian reading types Rupert Murdoch is some sort of devil incarnated, but I’ve never felt that way towards him.

I’ve always seen Murdoch as more of an ‘evil genius’ and when I use the word genius I mean that seriously.

I got an insight into how Murdoch works as boss when reading Piers Morgan’s book the Insider.During the 1990’s Morgan was editor of the News of the World and Murdoch was his boss. Hearing Morgan talk about Murdoch, I realised that he was someone with a brilliant talent and instinct for running newspapers. As someone who also loves newspapers, I respected that.

He’s someone who controversially revolutionised the newspaper industry during the 1980s with the move to Wapping, and changed the television landscape forever with the emergence of Sky television in particular Sky Sports.

He’s also not afraid to experiment as we’ve seen with the introduction of paywalls for papers like the Times. Ok his constant attacks towards the BBC have annoyed me, and for too long he's acted like an unofficial member of cabinet for successive Tory and Labour governments. His influence on British political life has overstepped the mark on occasions.

But he’s still one of those figures I have a grudging respect for. If this is the beginning of the end for Rupert Murdoch we wont see his like again for sometime.

No way Rebecca Brooks could survive

It took a while but it was inevitable that Rebecca Brooks had to resign as chief executive of News International.

My opinions towards her are the same as those I had for Andy Coulson. If you’re an editor of a newspaper, you should know where and how your paper’s stories are being found and investigated. If you don’t know this, then you’re not doing a very good job as editor.

Politicians and the Press

You get the impression that for some MPs the phone hacking scandal has been a great opportunity to finally to take revenge against sections of the press and Murdoch’s News International.

It’s good to see politicians taking a stand against the actions of News International, but lets not forget that for so many years both Tory and Labour politicians were desperate to court favour with Rupert Murdoch and his newspaper stable.

A lot of people will agree with me when I say it wasn’t a good thing for politics in this country. Politicians are meant to act in the interests of the electorate, rather than on behalf of corporations or business tycoons with their own agendas. I know that sounds na├»ve but that’s how it’s suppose to be.

One person I did think of was Vince Cable – remember him? End of last year, two undercover Telegraph reporters recorded him saying how he’d ‘declared war’ on Rupert Murdoch in his attempts to take full control of BskyB. Cable was replaced by Jeremy Hunt in overseeing the decision making process for the BskyB deal.

Poor Vince declared war too early, now everyday there’s an MP coming out to attack Murdoch.

A crisis for journalism

Very few people are emerging from this scandal with any credit, and when I think about it, journalism itself as profession and industry in the UK has been damaged.

None of this phone hacking revelations has come as a surprise to me, I read all about it 3 years ago, in the book Flat Earth News by Nick Davies. This isn’t the first time I’ve mentioned this book on my blog and unlikely to be the last.

If you love journalism and the press you need to read this book. In it, Davies explains that phone-hacking is just one of many dodgy and unethical methods used in the pursuit of news stories by many papers and not just the News of the World.

One of the reasons this story hasn’t come out before is that newspapers weren’t going to report on their own criminal activities, and as we’ve been discovering the police weren’t going to investigate, mainly because they were involved themselves. Nick Davies describes how newspapers have routinely bribed police officers for information.

I understand that in some circumstances in order to investigate serious or sensitive matters, the normal rules and accepted standards of investigation may have to be sacrificed.

The problem with phone-hacking is that it’s hard to justify the need to hack into the phones of murder victims or celebrities. It's a case of invading people's privacy for no obvious reason.

Previously I thought the MP expenses scandal represented the very best in investigative journalism - holding those in power to account and unveiling some of the criminal actions of our elected leaders – this was truly in the public interest.

Until it was shut down, I read the News of the World every week. I always enjoyed reading it, but I know that for all those genuinely good investigative stories the paper published; such as Pakistan cricket scandal, there were so many other stories that were trivial. The Max Moseley case is one that springs to mind.

Exposing the fact that he enjoyed a bit of S&M in his private life really wasn’t in the public interest. It was just a bit of titillation about someone most people had never heard of.

Despite this, I still bought the paper and in doing so continued to show there was a market for such stories.

My main concern now is that many people will rightly feel that the press has gone too far with phone hacking, and that tighter regulation must be introduced.

You’re hearing this argument from many people especially politicians. The cynic in me says it would suit politicians and those with power and influence to have a weaker press - one that wasn’t so intrusive.

Going back to MPs Expenses would that story have emerged if we had a weaker over regulated press? I don't think so.

Despite the actions of the News of the World, I take the view that the press when it acts responsibly is there to monitor and hold to account those individuals who purport to act in our interests.

Ironically, by not monitoring or regulating itself properly, journalism in this country may have weakened itself significantly.

Thursday 7 July 2011

The end of the News of the World - First reactions

I'm still coming to terms with the shock that this is the end of the News of the World.

One of my work colleagues gleefully announced the news to me this afternoon. Earlier in the week during a lively debate on this story, he politely made it clear to me his utter contempt he had for the News of the World and the fact that someone like me reads it. I've heard his arguments before, and didn't take any of it personally.

At first I thought he was joking, but after clicking onto the Guardian's website I soon found out it was no joke.

I said: "it's like the fall of Communism, but the equivalent for the British press"

I say this with only a slight sense of irony. It's unbelievable, and so unexpected, you never imagined something like this happening.

Only yesterday, I'd decided I wasn't going to buy the paper this Sunday, in protest against the latest allegations. Forget that, I'm definitely going to buy the last ever edition. It's the end for an iconic media and cultural brand in this country.

I'm going to write about this in more detail in the next few days, but whether you love or hate the News of the World, this is an historic and monumental day in the history of the British press.

Wednesday 6 July 2011

Even I'm shocked by this latest phone hacking revelation

"If the public knew the truth about the way certain sections of the media operate they would be absolutely horrified"

That’s a quote from former Labour party Press Secretary, Alistair Campbell, taken from a book called Flat Earth News by Nick Davies which I read back in 2008.

Well the public certainly know now, following the latest revelations in the News of the World phone hacking scandal.

I’ve been following this phone hacking story for a few years now, but even I was shocked when I heard the allegations that the News of the World had hacked into the phone of the murdered teenager Milly Dowler.That in itself was bad enough, but it gets worse.

Now there’s allegations that the News of the World hacked into the phones of victims of the 7/7 bombings, and tonight on Newsnight they reported that families of dead UK soldiers from Afghanistan have also been victims of phone hacking.

I read the News of the World every Sunday, and have done for years. I’m not going to lie to you I enjoy reading it; but I feel next Sunday it would be completely wrong for me to buy the paper.

I’ve previously wondered whether I’m contributing to a culture of unethical journalism by buying the News of the World.

Everytime I buy the paper I’m showing there’s a demand and interest in stories that may have been obtained using dubious or unethical methods.

In the past I've occasionally thought about such things, before deciding to just carry on buying the paper. Things have changed now though. This week's revelations are a game changer.

I’ve decided that if I boycott the paper I'll be sending out my own message that says these latest allegations are too much.

Related blog posts

Is this the end of the phone hacking story?

Tabloid phone hacking

Journalism back in the gutter!

This phone hacking story has entered a new phase, it's really in the public consious now.

Until a few days ago, this story only appealed to people like me, the media geeks out there of which I'm happy to call myself. But if we're being honest this phone hacking story didn't really hold much interest to the general public.

That's all changed now, and referring back to the Alastair Campbell's quote, the public are beginning to find out just how the tabloid press really operate - and it's not pretty.

For me it's interesting that stuff is coming out which I was reading about a couple of years ago in Nick Davies' Flat Earth News.

In his book he talks about some of the darker aspects of the national press and how newspapers find out information on members of the public. This includes bribing members of the police and civil servants, all of which is done by using private investigators.

This is exactly what we're hearing now, even though its been established practice within the press for years. This probably explains why quite a few other newspapers simply refused to run the phone hacking story on their front pages. I'm looking at you Daily Mail and the Express.

All the heat might be on the News of the World at the moment, but this story could spread to other newspapers, and their journalistic practices could come under scrutiny.

This could be one of those watershed moments, where things are never going to be quite the same. I've been following this story for over two years, but I'm thinking it's only now that this story has really started to take off.