Poor terrified drunk David Yelland, nice but dim, Blair’s tragic poodle: Press misleading says ex-Sun editor http://t.co/j8ACUaOA7o — Neil Wallis (@neilwallis1) November 29, 2013You could not ask for a better instance of the wimpish cult described by Yelland. Wallis’s pseudo-macho tweet is an excellent example of the lad not wanting to break ranks with the big boys – you can almost hear the sub-text, ‘are you listening Rebekah, are you listening Rupert?’ In exchanges on Twitter with, among others, Westminster University’s Steven Barnett, Wallis accused Yelland of ‘betrayal.’ Given that Wallis’s former employer, the News of the World, was summarily closed by Rupert Murdoch, as a result of the criminal activities of Wallis’s colleagues, four of whom have pleaded guilty to phone hacking, it seems surprising that Wallis still hasn’t worked out who really did the betraying. 3 More than one commentator has described this culture as ‘omerta’ – slavish minions blindly conforming to the presumed wishes of their leader, along the lines of the Mafia. This may have a certain Soprano-like glamour but it’s hardly a model to promote confidence in the press as champions of freedom. The role of media academics There is a curious view among some pro-tabloid tweeters that people who haven’t worked in the media, such as mere readers, or who no longer work there, and have committed the unforgiveable sin of becoming media academics (such as myself), have forfeited any right to comment on the press. A character called ‘Tabloid Troll’, Twitter name ‘@Vivalatabloidranting,’ is particularly prone to this line of attack. According to Troll, you can only comment on Leveson issues if you’ve worked in a tabloid newsroom. But when someone who has worked in a tabloid newsroom, such as Yelland, ventures to criticize, he too is vilified. The mythical mystique of the newsroom, incomprehensible to outsiders, has also been invoked by a non-tabloid journalist, Nick Cohen writing in The Spectator:
As a rule, media studies professors are to working journalists what astrologers are to astronomers. They do not understand what we do and they can’t do what we do. . . Almost every media professor has egged on Leveson and the politicians, and called for the reintroduction of state regulation of the press – last seen in England in 1695. It is as if law professors were demanding the return of Star Chamber.4Goldsmiths’ Professor James Curran demonstrated who, in fact was speaking moonshine (Cohen), and who knew what they were talking about (himself), in a letter to the Guardian:
This absurd claim [‘end of 300 years of press freedom’] implies that we had a free press in 1790 when criticism of the social system was a criminal offence, and guilt or innocence could be determined solely by a judge. It suggests that we had a free press in 1850 when the stamp, advertisement and paper duties were still fixed to price newspapers beyond the reach of ordinary people. . . This distortion helps to explain why, according to the 2010 Eurobarometer survey, the British public was the least disposed to trust its press, out of a total of 27 European countries.5The problem for journalistic commentators such as Cohen and TT is that, retreating to a ‘we know best because we work in newsrooms’ position simply won’t wash any more. For a start, if nobody is allowed to criticize any organization unless they’ve worked in it, that puts paid to journalists criticizing social workers, teachers, doctors, trade unionists, or indeed politicians. But also, thanks to the massive expertise that can now be found, not only in academic studies of the press, but on Twitter and in the blogosphere, the ‘we are the experts’ hype can be instantly rebutted. Another member of the Leveson lecture audience was writer Peter Jukes, whose tweets from the Old Bailey during the trial of Rebekah Brooks, Andy Coulson and their colleagues, have provided a rigorously factual running report on what was happening in the court, almost moment by moment. Jukes has made media history by having his time in the court paid for by crowd funding from his thousands of Twitter followers. These followers are people who reject Cohen’s and Tabloid Troll’s self-interested ‘ranting’ and who realize that, in the case of the hacking trials, much of the press aren’t going to report the story at all. Yelland, too, pointed out that the problem isn’t only what the press does report – the story is often about what it fails to report, the years-long hacking saga, reported almost exclusively by The Guardian, being a case in point. Yelland concluded:
Whether they are mad or just lack self-awareness, the fact is editors and proprietors in this country see themselves as the small guy, the powerless man struggling against the establishment. What they fail to grasp is that they have become the establishment themselves. They are the powerful, and others are the weak.Powerful? Well, up to a point Lord Copper, as another memorable exposé of the world of journalism once put it. But, as I’ve noted, an abiding impression of tabloid newsrooms from David Yelland’s account is not one of strength, but of weakness and fear. Despite all the vilification, the press critics, such as those in Hacked Off, are not going to back off, and the full story of what has led to the ‘reputational disaster’ of British journalism, is yet to be completely told. We await the outcome of the Old Bailey trials and of the inquiry into the murder of Daniel Morgan, whose tenacious brother Alastair was also among those listening to Yelland. He and his fellow campaigners against deceit, bullying and corruption are the truly tough ones. Máire Messenger Davies, Professor of Media Studies at the University of Ulster, was a victim of phone-hacking. 1 Organised by Article19, campaigning for free expression, and the Media Standards Trust at the Free Word Centre, Farringdon St, London.