How free are journalists? Heather Brooke exposure success – but where do we go from here?

It was enlightening and interesting to listen to Manx Radio’s interview with Heather Brooke (I was unable to attend the PAG meeting where she gave a presentation about her use of the Freedom of Information Act and the resulting exposures of MP’s expenses).  It seems that Ms Brooke was initially somewhat surprised that information wasn’t readily available. This resulted in a long and difficult battle to achieve her aim – resulting in success. She explained that Freedom of Information is about “equality of access” and that it levels the playing field. Who could argue with the necessity and desirability of this?

However, for some it was noticeable at the time of the revelations that other news items disappeared. The news reports were devoted, almost entirely, to blow-by-blow accounts of the latest revelations. Was I the only one who yawned and felt that several exposures were quite sufficient to inform us of the general state of corruption within parliament? While the public gasped with indignation at further scandalous misuse of expenses little attention was paid to another area of outrageous misuse of public money which might well have otherwise received just a little coverage.

EU elections were taking place at this time. I had been hopeful that the state of affairs in the EU might at last be made public knowledge and that others might become aware of the truly scandalous lack of accountability in the EU (no accounts signed off for many years etc.) and the cost this imposes on the British taxpayer. It seems to me that MEPs expenses would be vastly more interesting because of the enormous sums involved and the fact that much of this is perfectly legal under EU rules. While Ms Brooke was certainly right to pursue her aims, I can’t help wondering if the media allowed this story to surface and take over the news for the duration of the EU election period?

Asked about (the lack of )  investigative journalism in general, Heather Brooke felt that accountability and cost could be possible restrictions.  This same reason was given at a talk earlier this year by another prominent journalist. However, it seems that the gutter press will happily risk all to expose the latest Becks gossip etc.   – and we can see how far they have gone to obtain information. Yet the stories we really need to hear about simply don’t happen because it is easier to mouth the latest press releases from government, corporations etc. Isn’t this more akin to being a mouthpiece than to practising journalism? If press releases are simply copied and pasted then surely we are consuming exactly what tptb intend us to know  – and nothing more. Just a tad USSR –  or what? As for the cost implications of having journalists create reports – a reduction in photo galleries and colour supplements would reduce prices dramatically. Let’s have news.

The interview concluded with Ms Brooke drawing attention to the fact that citizens are under surveillance while governments do their utmost to keep things under wraps – as mentioned previously on the blog. She goes on to say that we either pull together as a global community or we succumb to global authoritarianism (my paraphrasing). Heather Brooke also draws attention to a general lack of community. For those who are convinced of an underlying agenda they will tell you this is intentional. Whether or not this is the case we are very fortunate on the island in that we have a wonderful community spirit. We must ensure this continues. It is our strength.

It seems that some journalists may well see things as they really are but how many are prepared to risk their jobs? Continually submitting undesirable (not toeing the line) copy is not a good career move. Furthermore, many journalists self-censor. They know that a story which has demanded enormous amounts of research and hard work will not be used if the topic or the angle doesn’t please those in charge. How demoralising it must be to have your hard work binned unceremoniously! This seems to explain why journalists of Ms Brooke’s calibre have not been more effective in uncovering what is really going on. We need free media. That is our only hope.

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