I have just got back from sitting in a discussion about how far should journalists go in chasing a story. It is a good question to ask and not as easy to answer as one might think. Is a journalist justified, for example, in breaking and entering a person’s property without consent to obtain facts even if the story is one of supposedly major importance? Can a journalist eavesdrop on confidential phone calls between X and Y in order to get a story and does that story have to pass some sort of “public interest” test? In my own hazy thoughts on the matter, I tend to take the view that the public interest test has to be very rigorous indeed, ie, life has to be at stake. It is not enough to say that “X is a famous man who is interesting to lots of people” sort of yardstick. It has to involve the exposure of murderous, criminal behaviour by the person(s) being investigated to justify breaking into a private home or breaching a confidential document.
Of course, as the discussion unfolded, it became pretty clear that the world of the internet and blogs, that a lot of media laws, as well as the whole idea of journalism being a licenced profession, is under threat. On the whole, I think this is a good thing. If journalists want to form their own trade associations to promote best practice and carry emblems on their news channels or newspapers saying that Mr J. Pearce is a member of the Journalist Society, well and good. It will be rather like plumbers, electricians or bricklayers forming such bodies, bodies that stand for reputation and high standards. Miscreants can and will be thrown out. Being a member of such a club will be a big deal, except that it will not be a state-approved body, but a genuinely private one.
Anyway, the weather is too glorious for me to write further. Time to light the barbecue and open some wine.