Something amazing is happening in the media, and it’s illustrated this month in the journalists’ trade magazine, Press Gazette.
“Gimme, gimme, gimme! Let’s stop freebie culture” is the headline over a piece by former Take A Break editor John Dale, in which he catalogues blatant greed, not by politicians or celebrities, but ordinary working journalists.
He cites a recent press event, organised by Asda and attended by well over 100 journalists, all of whom were given a £30 voucher. If that sounds to you like an outrageous bribe to ensure favourable publicity, it was shrugged off as a typical “gift bag”.
He doesn’t blame Asda. “They simply tune into the expectations of some journalists, that they should be rewarded merely for turning up and doing a nice, cushy number,” he says.
But then again, “would anyone give £30 to police officers? Or MPs? And if they did, guess who’d lead the lynch mobs. Yes, journalists.”
I have been reading the excellent Press Gazette for longer than I’m willing to admit, and I don’t remember the subject of freebies for journalists ever being treated as a serious issue worthy of ethical discussion.
Companies have been handing out these sweeteners for decades, and journalists have been accepting them without anyone ever openly questioning either their morality or their credibility.
Much has changed in the wake of the phone hacking scandal. Lord Leveson’s inquiry into media behaviour is leading to soul searching by journalists. John Dale argues that he should go back to basics, to the point where it all begins: “Gimme, gimme, gimme. For many, the not-so-secret Code of Practice.”
We can see this new approach every day in the national press, as newspapers expose each other’s misdoings in a way that was unheard of even a year ago. The code of silence has been broken. Are we at last entering an era of genuine no-holds-barred editorial coverage of the media? This might be a far more desirable and effective way of moderating press behaviour than state regulation.