How much do the Brits care about the phone hacking scandal?

How much do the Brits care about the phone hacking scandal? Not the Brits at the Guardian, or the Brits at the BBC, or for that matter the various Brits who are quoted in news media all over the world by journalists enthralled by the biggest media scandal in years.

No—how much does the broader British population care about the phone hacking scandal?

At the moment, they seem to care rather a lot—if you go by Google Trends’ mapping of search terms; they care about “phone hacking” as much as they do about “David Beckham”, my random choice of a baseline celebrity.

That popular interest lends extra importance and extra impetus to the current debate over the whole News of the World/News International/News Corporation phone hacking scandal. Right now, it is not simply the chattering classes, the Westminster crowd, and people in London newsrooms who care about this—it is a much wider audience, an audience of people who will (because they have lives to live) rarely pause for as much as a moment to consider journalistic ethics, media reform, or the relations between politicians and the press.

As long as that audience is there—and I’m not sure that will last long—the scandal may represent not only enormous damage done to the image of the Murdoch family, their closest associates and the corporate empire they have built, the British politicians who have too often seemed subservient to them, and the police officers who have turned out to be paid by them.

It also represents a real opportunity to reform media regulation and professional practice in the United Kingdom on the basis of something more than the usual suspects arguing things out amongst themselves and thus perhaps begin to address the real crisis of confidence that exist between the British population and institutions ranging from parties to the press.

As long as the audience interest is there, it is not simply the case that a majority of those who pollsters can induce into opining think News Corporation has handled the situation badly, that Prime Minister David Cameron has handled the situation badly, and that the police has handled the situation badly—but in fact very large numbers of people who would normally not have much of an opinion at all on such matters. And as long as they are paying attention, there is thus, perhaps, a slim chance of doing things right and regaining some of their trust.


4 responses to “How much do the Brits care about the phone hacking scandal?

  1. I’ve just listened to you on tonight’s the Moral Maze on this topic. Thought your views interesting, at least enough to pull me as far as this article! As a local politician I agree there is a crisis of confidence. I remain unconvinced that regulatory reform or imposition will solve this.

    • Thanks–I think the combination of statutory regulation and independent self-regulation in place in Denmark helps the press by holding publishers and editors accountable for (some) of what happens on their watch and giving ordinary people a free, quick, and relatively easy way to seek recourse if they feel they have been factually misrepresented by the press. Judging by international rankings such as those of Reporters without Borders and Freedom House, this regulatory scheme has not undermined the independence of the Danish press, and, in contrast to in the UK, Danes have relatively high levels of confidence in the press (50% of the population “tend to trust” the press, which includes two pretty rambunctious tabloid newspapers, whereas 19% of the British population tend to trust the press).

      This does not mean, however, that what is in place in Denmark is a one-size-fits-all solution, and there are plenty of reasons to be vary of statutory regulation.

      What I do think is needed in the UK is stronger and more muscular ways of addressing the crisis of confidence that besets the press and undermines its role in society, protect individual journalists’ ability to practice their craft without being pressured into fabrication or illegality, and effective ways of quickly redressing factual errors in what is published (let alone dealing with systematic flaunting of the law of the land in the pursuit of private profit).

  2. Pingback: Do the British (still) care about phone hacking? |

  3. Pingback: Ongoing limited popular interest in phone hacking |

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