UK media inquiries – now is the time for scepticism
Brian Cathcart: UK Media inquiries - now is the time for scepticism
13 Jul 11

This is may be an odd observation at a moment when barely credible stories about hacking are breaking by the hour, but it’s worth maintaining some level of scepticism. It is likely that some of the allegations being made at the moment will not, in time, stand up to close scrutiny. Some accepted facts in the scandal will probably be found to have no basis in evidence, and some dubious actions will turn out to have innocent explanation.

At the same time, as the criminal investigations and the public inquiry unfold over the next couple of years, new horrors will emerge. The experience of the past days, months and years leaves no room for doubt about that.

The Hacked Off campaign was founded at a time when it looked as though the truth about hacking, whatever it might be, might never be known. Rupert Murdoch’s News International was using its wealth to silence the civil litigants — the victims of hacking who were suing and had forced much of what we knew into the daylight. And lawyers were warning that any criminal prosecutions might end quickly with guilty pleas and thus without trials. I heard people close to the affair saying that it would all be over by November and we would never know any more.

Thanks to the great journalism of Nick Davies and his Guardian colleagues, that threat has evaporated and (let us give credit where it is due) thanks also to the three main party leaders, we will have a proper public inquiry. That was Hacked Off’s objective. Whether the inquiry will have exactly the right terms of reference or membership only time will tell; we did what we could to help shape the former and found the party leaders open-minded and constructive.

There is another whirlwind to come, because this inquiry and the debate which will accompany it will certainly bring big changes to British journalism. A lot of people will wish at times that the Pandora’s Box had never been opened and no doubt some will look back and rue these frenzied, disorienting days.

We will need to remember that the frenzy was the work of people who claimed to be journalists and who managed to do something so outrageous that, for at least a couple of weeks, everyone was thinking and talking about journalism and how it needed to change. And it isn’t just the hackers who are responsible but also the people who employed them and the people who indulged them — among them all those cynical journalists who make jokes about ethics.

If all goes well, what we will learn from the inquiry, over time, is something like the truth about hacking and the culture that created it. And journalists can’t really argue with the idea of learning the truth.

Brian Cathcart is founder of the Hacked Off campaign for a full inquiry into phone hacking. He teaches journalism at Kingston University and tweets at @BrianCathcart