21 media academics take apart The Guardian for ‘siding with the Conservative government’

The Guardian and Observer logos at their office
James Wright

21 media academics may well have provoked a reflective period at The Guardian. In a letter to the paper, published on 4 March, they slammed it for ‘siding with the Conservative government’ after an editorial backed the cancellation of a long-awaited investigation into media malpractice.

“Fourfold betrayal”

In a scathing attack, the academics also accused The Guardian of “a fourfold betrayal”. They began with three assertions:

It betrays your own journalists, who… laboured bravely and brilliantly to expose criminality and wrongdoing at national newspapers. It betrays the blameless and often vulnerable victims of those crimes, who were promised a full public inquiry… And it betrays the public at large.

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‘Siding with the Conservatives’

Following on from the phone hacking scandal, the second part of the Leveson Inquiry was supposed to investigate relationships between police and journalists. At the time, the scandal was epitomised by journalists who hacked missing teenager Milly Dowler’s phone. News of the World journalists may have interfered with her answer-phone messages, although the subsequent phone-hacking trial cast doubt over just what effect this had.

Rupert Murdoch was the owner of the now defunct News of the World. Ironically, Murdoch’s own staff recorded the media mogul admitting that bribing police for stories happens at “every newspaper in Fleet Street”. Despite this, the government has now cancelled the second part of the investigation into such behaviour. And The Guardian backed it in an editorial:

Leveson 2 would ultimately end up like a driver learning to steer by looking in the rear-view mirror at the road behind rather than the one ahead.

Newspapers today face an existential threat due to a combination of social, technical and economic factors. Their circulation has fallen by a third since the Leveson inquiry.

This follows comments from culture secretary Matt Hancock, who also pointed to the 30% fall in newspaper circulation:

The world has changed since the Leveson inquiry was established in 2011. Since then we have seen seismic changes to the media landscape…

“Logic that negates all accountability”

In their letter to The Guardian, the 21 academics were unforgiving:

In endorsing the cancellation of Leveson 2 you place yourself on the side not only of this Conservative government but also of its close allies, the newspapers that perpetrated the crimes and the wrongdoing. And what is your rationale? That we should look forward rather than back – a logic that negates all accountability and one that is always favoured by the unscrupulous and the unethical.

To finish, they pointed to the “fourth betrayal”:

This was unworthy of your newspaper’s great traditions of independence, of service to the public and of intellectual rigour. That is the fourth betrayal.

Responding to The Canary, a Guardian News & Media Ltd spokesperson said:

Following the Leveson Inquiry, very public criminal and civil trials have taken place.  It is clear that powers already exist in law to hold journalists to account for acts of criminality. On balance, we do not see a clear case for proceeding with a further judge-led inquiry.

Media academics have launched an extraordinary attack on The Guardian. It’s important to have a free press. But equally, regulation is necessary to ensure massive outlets do not abuse their power. This undermines democracy, and it must be stamped out.

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Featured image via Michael Brunton-Spall – Flickr

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