A happy day for lying politicians, dodgy royals and drug-taking, philandering celebs

Today is a sad day for British journalism.

But it’s a happy day for lying politicians, dodgy former royals, corrupt sportsmen and drug-taking and philandering celebs.

Individuals at the News of the World were to a large extent the architects of their own demise.

Those who continued to cover-up the extent of the phone-hacking scandal after it was reignited by The Guardian in July 2009 bear their share of the blame.

But it is difficult not to feel immensely sorry for the 200-odd journalists who today don’t know whether or not they will have a job in three months time when their gardening leave expires.

The vast majority of them had nothing to do with hacking and were not even on the paper when the shameful targeting of a murdered schoolgirl’s mobile phone is alleged to have happened.

They have done a bloody good job under difficult circumstances, winning an unprecedented four Press Awards earlier this year despite the increasing pressure from the scandal.

Yesterday politicians and tabloid-haters queued up to crow over an announcement which is going to effect thousands of peoples’ livelihoods.

But perhaps the likes of Lord Prescott should set his own justifiable upset at having his mobile phone voicemail messages intercepted against the thought of the hundreds who returned home to their families last night with no idea how they are going to support them in a few months time.

It seems likely that the Twitter-fuelled advertising boycott was the thing which pushed News Corp Europe and Asia boss James Murdoch over the edge to pull the plug on the News of the World.  The atmosphere had become so frenzied that any advertiser appearing in the paper would have seemed to be giving tacit approval for the hacking of Milly Dowler’s phone.

Those who led that campaign should reflect now on the consequences of what I think was a knee-jerk and reaction to this week’s developments which has had the effect of punishing the innocent. Because whatever you think about the journalism of the News of the World, 2.7m fewer newspapers sold a week at a stroke is not a good thing for democracy, society or for journalism.

The final consequence of all this looks set to be the end of the 20-year-old system of press self regulation as we know it.

We have to hope that a vigorous, probing, questioning press which pushes its boundaries does survive in the UK.

For all their faults, UK national newspapers remain the best and most revelatory in the world and to neuter them would be a national tragedy.

If something good can come out of this scandal I think it is a better regulated more professional approach to journalism.

This could be as simple as saying that everyone who calls themselves a journalist and receives a press card should have to prove a minimum level of training (NCTJ or equivalent) and sign up to a few pledges: I will tell the truth, I won’t break the law unless there is an over-riding public interest, I will not hack phones.

And the new regulator should have the power to censure those who break those rules and take away their press cards if they commit serious ethical breaches.

In the meantime, goodbye News of the World and good luck to the honest, hard-working and professional journalists who have been dragged down by this scandal.

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