Marr says broadband threatens our culture

By Dominic Ponsford

Broadcaster Andrew Marr has warned that the internet threatens to take us back to a medieval information culture.

And, delivering the annual Hugh Cudlipp lecture at the London
College of Communication, he revealed how News of the World
investigations editor Mazher Mahmood got his start in journalism by
“turning over” some family friends.

Marr said broadband
technology threatens journalism because it means audio and video
content are becoming more popular than text on the internet.

He
said: “So long as we are able to consume information through words –
are able to re-read, check exact quotation, pore over figures and
statistics and carefully chosen descriptions – then we, the public,
will still have some purchase or grip, and therefore power.

“I do
fear a culture where we only hear things and we only see things and
that it all sweeps past us a little too fast – we can’t really tell
after a while whether it was the politician who said that originally or
if it was Rory Bremner. Was that a docu-drama or was that news footage?”

He
spoke of the “limitations of a culture that becomes mainly audio and
visual – the culture in a way of medieval times of mummers and painted
biblical scenes before the Enlightenment got going.

“It’s time to
reassert the need for verbal clarity and journalists have to be the
people above all who champion good writing against the triumph of image.

We
are in a strong position to do it. We are in a democratic culture of
the kind we haven’t had before at a time when journalism appears to be
growing a little stronger again. We have comparative freedom of speech
and information.”

When asked whether the News of the World was
right to spend six figures duping the England football manager with
Mazher Mahmood’s fake sheikh sting, he said: “Yes” – adding: “I am one
of the very few people who’s met Mazher Mahmood and not been turned
over by him immediately afterwards. He’s an extraordinary one-off
phenomenon.

Whether you approve or disapprove of what he does, he
has a complete singlemindedness about entrapment journalism, which he
defends in terms of the number of criminals he’s put behind bars over
his career – far more than any police officer.”

Marr said Mahmood got his first scoop when some family friends came to dinner at his parents’ house.

According
to Marr, Mahmood told him: “These friends were talking about how they
were copying illegal pirate videos, so I said I was popping up to my
room, I phoned the News of the World and I shopped them.”

Marr
said: “He just goes for it, he’s absolutely lethal… the News of the
World has done fantastically, it’s totally dominated the headlines two
weeks running.”

Week two of Mahmood’s Sven- Goran Eriksson sting
on Sunday prompted an investigation into allegations of corruption in
football. The following day, Eriksson announced that he will quit as
manager after the World Cup.

Marr advised young journalists to
start their careers in print if possible, saying: “If you can get a
good print trade education in terms of the sharp and good use of words,
and learn how to sub, and learn how to tell a story in the traditional
print way, that is going to do you more good later on as a broadcast
journalist.”

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