While last week’s round-up focused on the good and the bad in the world of PR, this week the ugly steps up to take its turn.
The week started with debate around the social media sting which prompted Tory MP Brooks Newmark’s resignation. The story was presented as a coup for the Sunday Mirror but it’s clear that many are worried about the means used by the freelance journalist to get his story.
While there may be little sympathy for Newmark’s folly in falling for such a ploy, the tactics employed raise questions about consent and identity on the web.
For one thing, the journalist took photos of women from social media pages without their consent to bait Newmark into sending his own ‘selfie’. While the photos may have been already published on their own social media pages, the two women had not given permission for them to be used in this way, nor expected to find themselves the subject of UK breaking news.
Newmark clearly would not have sent the picture had he known who the real recipient was, and whether or not we sympathise with him, there is a question mark over the legality of the journalist’s subterfuge.
The ‘public interest’ defence sounds a little hollow, given the journalist’s attempts to goad other (Tory) MPs in the same way. One of those MPs has logged a formal complaint to the new press regulator, Ipso, as well as the police, and it remains to be seen whether formal action will be taken against the Mirror.
At the other end of the week, this morning saw News of the World editor Ian Edmonson, become the latest journalist to plead guilty to phone hacking. The admission means he is likely to follow fellow editors behind bars and reinforces the increasing pressure for journalists to be held account for their methods.
It should be said that other newspapers apparently turned down the opportunity to publish the Brooks Newmark story, but the week’s events highlight that it remains a sorry time for the media industry.
No doubt there are many who passionately hold dear the noble purpose of investigative journalism to bring the truth to light through rigorous interrogation of the facts. Increasingly, though, the public is getting a sense that its purpose, as well as its methods, are questionable. It’s hard not to be left with a sense that journalists are out to get the stories that sell, and many still operate on the grounds that nothing sells better than ‘celebrity’ sex scandals.
As long as there is no sign of public appetite for this kind of story abating, the reality is that robust press regulation will be needed to protect us from ourselves.