Old Hack to hackers: take your phones and shove them

Gonzo Meets the Press # 15 July 14, 2011

The UK phone-hacking scandal has forced the closure of the News of the World,
prompted two government inquiries and derailed a News Corp bid for full control
of BSkyB. Tom Krause believes the debacle could have been averted by some good
pub mentoring.

“Use fair, responsible and honest means to obtain material. Identify yourself
and your employer before obtaining any interview for publication or broadcast.
Never exploit a person’s vulnerability or ignorance of media
practice.”
“Journalists and photographers may at times have to operate
surreptitiously to expose crime, significantly anti-social conduct, public
deception or some other matter in the public interest. All such operations must
be approved in advance by the editor.”
Guess which one of the statements above is in the News Limited Code of Conduct and which is in the Media Alliance
Code of Conduct.
Go to the head of your journalism class if you guessed the
first one is in the Alliance Code. On second thought, leave the class and head
for the real world where you learn what counts in journalism.
I hasten to add I am not having a go at News Limited. I worked for The Australian
for nearly ten years and as far as anyone knows,  News Ltd journos in Australia
have not engaged in any News of the World-style phone hacking. And the
chairman and chief executive of News Limited, John Hartigan, has ordered a
review of editorial expenditure over the past three years to confirm payments to
contributors were legitimate.
But the Alliance code is on general principles, while the News Ltd code has to be specific, because in the real
world, journalists and photographers just might have to operate in secret to
expose crime, anti-social conduct, public deception or other matters in the
public interest. Just don’t ask me to do it.  A reporter on the Sunday
Program
asked me if I would go to Thailand and pose as a sex tourist so we
could expose the sleazy activities of some tourism operators who indulge in the
trade.
I went so far as to call one of the phone numbers and ask whether I
could go on a tour and the details. But I couldn’t do it. The slimy bloke on the
other end of the line made me so angry with his references to the delights of
Thai girls that I had to hang up. And I told the reporter it wouldn’t work. I
quoted the AJA (now part of the MEAA) code: “Identify yourself and your employer
before obtaining any interview for publication or broadcast.”
But the main reason I couldn’t do it was that I couldn’t be someone I wasn’t. Listening to
those News of the World journos talking to people on the phone is
enough to make me sick. I’ve never been good at prevarication, and the story
would have to be of earth-shattering public interest before I acted
surreptitiously (though I do like saying that: “I acted surreptitiously as I
turned over the editor’s desk.” Oops, that’s another story!).
Now back to journalism classes and one of my hobby horses. In the old days (okay you can
stop here if you’d like), your peers would have caught up with you in the pub
after work and said: “What the hell are you doing, going off to Thailand to
pretend you’re a sex tourist. It’s not ethical, and you’d wind up getting beaten
up or killed by those sleazy operators.” Or if I had set up a politician and
hired a private detective – which I could also never do – to follow him or her
around, and told experienced journos like Phil Cornford or Tony Reeves or the
late Gus de Brito, to name just a few of the old-timers, at the Evening Star
Hotel in Sydney, they would have pushed me up against the bar and told me what
an a—hole I was.
It wasn’t called mentoring then, but good advice from your
colleagues. It was free, it was honest, and you ignored it at your peril. I’m
sorry, but I doubt you get that in journalism classes these days (if you did,
the teacher would probably be accused of being politically incorrect, taking his
or her students to the pub and harassing them!)
And okay, the old pub culture wasn’t great for family life, and sometimes led to breakups, divorces and
alcoholism. But if you hung around for a couple of beers and some good
journalistic lessons, you were respected and free to dispense some advice in the
next session. I can just imagine Phil Cornford walking up to Clive Goodman, the
royal editor of the News of the World who was sentenced to four months
in prison for his role in the hacking scandal, grabbing him by the lapels of his
well-tailored suit and saying: “If you keep this up, I’m going to take your
mobile phone and shove it down your throat (which sounds like a good place for
it!).”
But these days no one has time for lunch, except for those who’ve just
been made redundant, and mentoring is more leading by example, than face-to-face
exchanges, which you would get in a pub.

A man for all seasons

Anyway, those were just the rantings of an Old Hack, and now I have a good news story for you.
My friend, Ed Campion, a Jesuit priest, journo, author, critic, teacher, former Chair
of the Literature Board of the Australia Council, a Notre Dame supporter (the
American university, whose football team, The Fighting Irish, became the most
famous college side in the US and was adopted by a subway alumni of Irish
immigrants), occasional luncher at the Bellevue Hotel in the Sydney suburb  of
Paddington, and one of the nicest blokes I have ever met, sent me a beautifully
bound publication of his lecture: John Henry Newman: A Cardinal for our
Times
, signed, of course, with one of his trademark witticisms (in this
case: “as ever”).
We share an admiration for Cardinal Newman, the Anglican
activist who converted to Catholicism in the 19th century, and whose The
Idea of a University
, was one of my favourite books when I attended uni in
the States many years ago. Ed’s lecture was given at The Grail (International
Women’s Movement) Centre in North Sydney on December 4, 2010 to celebrate the
beatification of John Henry Newman in a papal ceremony in England last
September. Newman’s beatification had received little notice in Australia
(unlike that of Mary MacKillop), despite his influence here – which I have only
just discovered.
And here is the good news: this wonderfully written (and
spoken, I’m sure, even though I wasn’t there!) lecture has been published in a
limited edition to mark the fiftieth anniversary tomorrow of Ed’s ordination to
the priesthood at St Mary’s Cathedral in Sydney on July 15, 1961.
I know many former clerics (including one of my cousins) who have left the priesthood, so
fifty years is an amazing milestone in these modern, secular and cynical times.
I couldn’t even last as a Catholic, despite remembering all the Latin responses
in the Mass drilled into me by Father Gallagher and Sister Marian Therese all
those years ago (55, to be exact).
And yet, Father Ed Campion remains the same good bloke and priest I met nearly thirty years ago. I interviewed Ed at
the launch of his book, Rockchoppers: Growing up Catholic in Australia,
and my opening line in The Australian was: “Bless me, Father, for I
have sinned. It has been many years since my last confession.” I think he gave
me Absolution at the time, but I have continued to sin ever since. So I guess
I’m not eligible to recommend Ed for sainthood, but he deserves it.
And he’s so modest, he wouldn’t accept it anyway. I can say of Ed what he says of John
Henry Newman, quoting Lord Acton on Erasmus: “He did not despair of the
Church.”
Congratulations, Ed Campion, on your well-written and well-ministered half century as a man for all
seasons.

War on clichés

And finally, I continue my war on clichés by publishing a violation by a very good journalist on a very good radio show.
Saturday Extra, presented by Geraldine Doogue, on ABC’s Radio National,
is one of my favourites. I listen to it on my weekly Saturday morning walk. Last
Saturday Geraldine, a colleague of mine on The Australian 35 years ago,
and an excellent presenter and interviewer, was discussing the government’s
carbon tax plans with Giles Parkinson, an extremely competent commentator, who
writes for the online journal: Climate Spectator. But Parkinson came up
with my least favourite cliché three times in two sentences: “There would also
possibly be a productivity type arrangement which might actually look at the
rates of compensation and assistance going forward – whether they’re
effective or not and whether they’re necessary. And I think we learned yesterday
also about this new statutory authority which will look after renewables
going forward, and will take over all the funding and will probably,
hopefully, receive more funds going forward.”
Mr Parkinson, I can take the GF word once, but not three times in two sentences, and if you take out
the phrase, you will notice the meaning has not changed. It is unnecessary.
Please no more going forward!
Tom Krause is the supervising producer of Ten’s Meet the Press. His views are his own; always have been.

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