Scotsman editor John McLellan recalled an interesting anecdote in his written witness statement to the Leveson Inquiry that’s certain to cause debate among journalists.
Asked for his thoughts on ethics within the newspaper industry, McLellan noted that while journalists were duty bound to consider how individuals will be affected by their stories this “should not necessarily come before the need to publish”.
‘On a daily basis newspapers face ethical dilemmas and balancing the public interest with what is interesting to the public is not easy,’he writes. ‘Does an individual deserve to be criticised for his or her actions.’? Should an individual’s feelings play any part in a decision to publish or not… The list of ethical questions is almost endless.”
To illustrate his point he cites the following example:
As a young reporter at Chester magistrates court I covered the case of a bank clerk who admitted stealing fog lights from a DIY store.
He looked at me from the dock and told the court that if I kept the story out of the paper his manager had said he could keep his job.
My reaction was that I wasn’t responsible for the consequences of his actions and it was unfair for the manager to put the onus on me and the paper to decide this man’s future.
My story was duly published but that weekend he was found dead in his car with our paper by his side and my story ringed.
It was 25 years ago and I can still see his face, but I can’t honestly say I wouldn’t do the same thing again.
His evidence was in stark contrast to that of Hello magazine editor Rosie Nixon, who told the inquiry:
If somebody doesn’t want us to run something we don’t run it. We wouldn’t get access to a big event in their lives in the future if we have done something to upset them.