President of the Society of Editors Donald Martin today insisted it was time to ‘move on’from the phone-hacking scandal at the News of the World.
Speaking at the Society’s annual conference in Glasgow the Sunday Post editor admitted that ‘phone tapping and data blagging provide genuine concerns for all those worried about responsible journalism”. But he added: ‘That legitimate debate is becoming increasingly corrosive and often hijacked for political reasons that owe little to high-minded concerns over responsible journalism.”
Martin’s comments come after police last week passed a new dossier of evidence about phone-hacking at the News of the World to the Crown Prosecution Service following new revelations earlier this year in the New York Times and other news outlets.
He said: ‘What do we know about phone hacking and data theft? The problem is that there is too much that we don’t know and an over-abundance of speculation that has yet to be thrashed out.
‘The danger is that as this story drags on – for years now – our enemies can create an impression with the public that editors and journalists have no respect for the law.
‘That is absolute nonsense. Both our own codes and in some cases the law itself provides defences for legitimate journalism that is in the public interest.”
He added: ‘The key thing is that phone tapping issues date back to 2002. Sure the question is now for those genuinely concerned for responsible journalism, is it happening now?”.
‘There have been a wealth of further inquiries that have found nothing. Scotland Yard has sent its latest report to the prosecuting authorities. Let’s hope that will now bring this sorry episode to an end.”
Martin said it was time to move on to some ‘very real and very current issues’such as libel reform, the ‘pernicious and debilitating’effect of no win, no fee libel rules that have had such a chilling effect on journalism’– and the effect of the ‘Bribery Act 2010 which he said ‘could see journalists jailed if it is misused against us”.
Despite huge editorial cutbacks across the UK journalism industry in recent years, Martin insisted that in many cases change was ‘no bad thing”.
He said: ‘Our balance of resources was often too biased to production and not enough to content. We had wasteful duplication and unnecessary processes. Yes, we valued our collective output but we had failed to prioritise that which truly adds value. We needed to put our time and effort into that which delivers the audience we want.”