Friday, 1 March 2013

Professor Brian Cathcart - Founder, Hacked Off campaign

Professor Cathcart at Journalism Week

Coming hot on the heels of yesterday's appearance by staunch press supporter, former News International Executive Editor Neil Wallis, was today's rebuttal from Professor Brian Cathcart - leading academic light of the Hacked Off alliance of hacking victims. They represent the strongest supporters of the Leveson Inquiry recommendations and are in direct conflict with the Fleet Street empires who have been exposed in the midst of the greatest wrongdoing in modern journalism.

Wallis' comments yesterday were highly provocative, and into the small hours I was tweeting with former Daily Star reporter turned moral crusader Richard Peppiatt as he responded to some of the slings and arrows exchanged at yesterday's session!

Regardless of hurt feelings, the mood on the #LTJW feed was one that had been swayed by the "Wolfman's" charm to anti-Leveson sentiments. It was hard not to be convinced that our basic rights as Journalists were at the mercy of vengeful and distant celebrity personages - and Professor Cathcart had an uphill fight on his hands!

It's worth noting that Brian did not bother with a presentation and spoke directly to his audience, drawing the facts and figures straight from memory. His language was creative and exciting, much like Neil Wallis' - "Celebrities were subject to stalking and - let's face it - surveillance" he said of the scandal, wryly observing that the story of a massive corporation with a famous leader breaking the law would certainly make an entertaining book - and movie. Indeed, it already comes preloaded with celebrity faces!

Getting into the grit of details, Brian observed how the Guardian - whose reporter Nick Davies is widely credited as the man who broke the hacking scandal - ran 237 stories on the drama as it unfolded. Conversely, papers from the Mail empire ran just 37, usually criticizing the Guardian for mounting what appeared to be a "politically-motivated vendetta!"

Indeed, Brian strongly implies the presence of a "conspiracy - to cover up phone hacking" - a joint effort by titles both News International and not to bury any evidence of wrong-doing on Fleet Street.With relish he quotes an interview with Richard Murdoch from the Sixties, where the mogul said "Newspapers can hide things - and be a great power for evil." You can infact see the comment for yourself in this amazing archive footage courtesy of the BBC, at 1:50. Never before have such prophetic words been uttered - I am certain that Rupert would dearly like to "have no recollection" of this interview as he did so much else when placed before the Culture Committee as well as Lord Justice Leveson!

Meanwhile, Professor Cathcart is undaunted in his pursuit of the truth. "What is happening? The only newspapers reporting the scandal to begin with are the British national papers with the smallest circulation - the Guardian, the Independent, the Financial Times." There is a disconnect between the actions of the underdog papers and the powerful alliances of Murdoch's empire, and Dacre's, and the Trinity Mirror group.

The answer, he claims, is simple. "Journalists don't want to shine a light into their own backyards - and that is shaming, as a Journalist myself." In reality, he says, we should be a force for change, 'poking' the powerful and exposing wrondoing - but what does that make us, the press, if we won't do the same for ourselves?

He turned his attack on regulation - past, present and future, mentioning the Press Council from 1953, and the PCC from 1991 - both organisations grudgingly formed under threat of statutory reform. The results, he says, speak for themselves. 
Stronger, statutory-backed press regulation, audited three-yearly, is "Nothing to be afraid of. It could become a kitemark, a badge of honour, a standard to be aimed for and to be held to." He contrasted this with his ending comment, taken from a taped conversation at the News of the World in 2002. "This is what we do, Charley - we go out and we destroy people's lives." We, as journalism students, have nothing to fear - but those kinds of tabloid hacks do.

- -

At this point he thanked us for our time, and turned the floor over to questions. The entire session was filmed as always, and at 33:35 you can see me ask the first question, passing on a direct quote from Neil Wallis that was made during his session the preceding day!

Many of the audience came away from this speech informed, but not especially swayed after the more charismatic speech of Mr Wallis. Indeed, Neil was able to push the buttons of fear and apprehension about the possible restraints placed on us if the Hacked Off campaigners succeed in having their recommendations passed - although Professor Cathcart acknowledged that David Cameron's administration is compromising significantly with the press to water down the Leveson recommendations as much as possible. 

After the Q&A finished, too quickly as always, I was able to talk to Brian one-on-one to ask another question about collusion between the media, the police and the politicians.

No comments:

Post a Comment