Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Public Interest VS. Prosecution

“The News International Phone-hacking Scandal” is an infamous ongoing controversy. In this “Hackgate,” the UK journalists of News of the World illegally hacked into voice messages of important public figures and celebrities in order to generate stories and news. Needless to say, hacking is an obvious violation of rights to privacy. And, it is clearly an unlawful journalistic practice that hacking is used as a tool to fish for breaking news.
The Guardian journalist Amelia Hill was among the first to reveal these shocking follies of News of the World. Since then, the discovery of this malpractice brought public outrage against the News Corporation and many were arrested and persecuted. 

However, since the outbreak of “Hackgate,” Hill was under investigation regarding her questionable method of discovery of the above mentioned, and the interviews she conducted with her informant. After a thorough investigation, the decision of her persecution was announced on TheGuardian, on 5/29/2012, that the British prosecutors will not be pressing charges against Amelia Hill. They also decided not to press charges against the suspected police officer who allegedly leaked sources to her.

The reasoning behind this rather unusual event is because the legal guidelines for criminality in journalism have changed since the phone-hacking scandal. The guideline on dealing with cases involving the media was recently updated in April. The law first asks regarding any indication of corruption in the journalist’s conduct and whether media conduct is “capable of disclosing that a criminal offence has been committed.” Though this is not to say that the new clause gives journalists special treatment, but it is clear that discussion of public interest served by their actions is an influential factor in the decision for prosecution.

So applying the guideline above, the principal legal adviser to the director of public prosecutions, Levitt, explains that there was insufficient evidence against either suspect to pursue the possible wrongful conduct in Hill’s collecting of confidential information; there was no bribery involved, and the interview was conducted under caution. In the end, it was determined that Hill’s attempts to contribute to public debate and her efforts into promoting the public’s “right to know” is clearly a case in which “the public interest served by the journalist’s conduct outweighs the overall criminality alleged.”

In Singer and Ashman’s article “User-Generated Contentand Journalist Values,” questionnaires were used to discuss how journalists define their occupational values. One result shows that “journalists associate honesty and balance with credibility and responsibility” (236). The Hackgate is a direct contradiction to this statement; the journalists used their improperly and dishonestly obtained evidences to provide biased and in-credible stories, only in search of breaking news at the cost of invading personal privacy. In discovering this disturbing fact, Hill may have led seemingly suspicious investigations at first glance. We cannot positively state that this was entirely righteous, but the new guideline provides a little more room to allow these ‘unsual’ methods under the umbrella of informing the public. But how far should it be allowed, and how will it influence other journalists out of UK? Will it provide precedence for eager US journalists? They’re worth thinking about.

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