Possible dissertation subjects- The legacy of strong journalism

Another possible subject for my dissertation could be about showing what would be the affect of strong journalism, asking if it could truly make a difference which could be compared to previous successes.

Showing previous stories like the Michael Buerk report from Ethiopia in 1984 and the subsequent Live Aid concerts which happened as a result of it.

Other subjects that could be used to show a legacy of strong journalism could be Watergate or the case of Jack the Ripper and subsequent bringing down of then Metropolitan Police commissioner Sir Charles Warren.

The question I would ask could be along the lines of, how much did these events shape modern society or, after a raft of change, could journalism do something similar now?

This would involve in-depth investigation of what happened, how and the legacy it has left as well as showing how these events would have been affected in modern day journalism.

Essay- Do We Have A Free Press 800 Years After Magna Carta?

“I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it.” Beatrice Evelyn Hall.

The question of the freedom of the press has raged for hundreds of years and shows no signs of coming to an end just yet.

At this time, hundreds of years after the end of state licensing and taxing of journalism, do I, as a student journalist, believe we have a truly free press now? No definitely not, for which I have reasons that I will lay out in this essay.

My first problem with press freedom is that it seems to be controlled too much by the government and judges who have either their own agenda (in the case of politicians) or the interests of celebrities (in the case of both) at their root.

Another problem seems to be that certain parts of the media appear to have forgotten about news reporting and are more obsessed with celebrity gossip and sensationalism.

Something else causing public mistrust of the press is the narcissistic tendencies of tabloid journalism with reporters who, with absolutely the best will in the world, sometimes seem to see themselves as the answer to a particular problem like a war or a natural disaster rather than just reporting the facts as they present themselves.

Everybody was rightly horrified at some of the practices employed by the press such as phone hacking, Lord Justice Leveson was charged with the duty of holding an inquiry into the practices and ethics of the press from which he produced his report for Prime Minister David Cameron in 2012 but was it, as Mick Hume claims in his book There Is No Such Thing As A Free Press, “An act of state interference into the affairs of the British press”?

During the proceedings overseen by Lord Justice Leveson there was a parade of several celebrities such as Hugh Grant, Steve Coogan and Max Mosley, all victims of the phone hacking by the now closed down News of the World, systematically humiliating tabloid journalism (rightfully so in some cases).

But what actually constitutes a truly free press and, more importantly, what constitutes a state controlled press?

It can certainly be argued that a truly free press is able to do its job of reporting what is in the public interest without fear or favour and without people quoting the Leveson report at them at every turn, whilst being professional and balanced.

John Wilkes (1725-1797) was a Member of Parliament and Lord Mayor of London but also a radical journalist who fought for free speech and press freedom and it’s thanks to him that journalists can report on what is said in the Houses of Parliament today.

He was thrown in the Tower of London as a prisoner and expelled from Parliament on several occasions but he was extremely popular with the public and was able to overturn his expulsion from Parliament.

It is true to say that the press do enjoy certain freedom that maybe others don’t, such as absolute privilege and qualified privilege and the now changed/abolished Reynolds Defence but of course there are certain things that we can’t report on such as people’s personal privacy and matters of national security.

Having said that it seems gagging orders are almost the latest celebrity ‘Must Have’ item as shown in the action taken by Ryan Giggs to stop news of his affair with Imogen Thomas. (Hughes, Kirsty) (2012) (Taylor and Francis Online) (tandfonline.com)

When the story finally broke about the affair it seemed to be nothing more than celebrity gossip of the sort of thing that, however much we dislike to talk about it, happens in every walk of life from the very famous to the ordinary man and woman on the street.

One part of the law however that does see the press afforded certain legal rights is the protection of journalist’s sources.

This was very ably shown to be in perfect working order in the case of The Guardian against the Metropolitan Police when police officers tried, unsuccessfully, to use the official secrets act to force the newspaper to reveal their sources who had leaked information to them enabling them to break the story of the News of the World hacking into the phone of a murdered teenager in 2011.

It also seems that other items receive the attention of the press maybe more than they should, for instance the recent releases of the new James Bond and Star Wars films has seen certain broadcasters take advertising arguably to new levels.

Reality TV such as I’m A Celebrity… Get Me Out of Here, X Factor and The Apprentice among others also seem to receive the sort of coverage that maybe they shouldn’t get.

We should though not forget the power of the press and how useful it can be such as Michael Buerk’s report from Ethiopia on 23 October 1984 which spawned the massive relief effort of Band Aid and then the subsequent Live Aid concerts of 1985, direct results of news reporting in its purest form.

Something else that the media seems to be increasingly responsible for in recent years is the conducting of political campaigns with TV and Radio being used in larger amounts to get the politicians messages over compared to the now less used tactic of getting out, knocking on doors or meeting the electorate in public.

Since the publication of the Leveson report we have seen the creation of the Independent Press Standards Organisation (IPSO) but for me the jury remains out on that for the moment and its potential for, through financial sanctions, to represent some form of indirect state licensing for the press, as was suggested, before the report publication, by Mr Hume.

The freedom of information act 2000 must not be confused as only being available to the press, it is available to everyone, however it would be negligible of me to rule out what the freedom of information act means for me and other members of the profession of journalism which I recently took advantage of to find out how many people were registered as homeless in Hull and the East Riding of Yorkshire.

The Freedom of Information act enables you to get hold of recorded information for things such as local council expenditure or, in my case, how many people are registered as homeless in a particular area.

However there is a ‘But’ to this. If a certain body of people like the local council or government think you’re making too many FOI requests they will eventually start refusing your requests, they’ll also refuse a request if they think it will cost them too much money or take them too long to find out the information you have requested.

This would also seem to be another contradiction of press, or public, freedom but in reality I currently have no reason to believe that it happens with great regularity although one would question why it happens at all when it is supposed to be about openness and transparency?

Certain people also question the roles of the owners of newspapers, the so called media barons, with their apparent ‘chequebook journalism’ the media oligarchs like that of Jonathan Pryce’s character Elliot Carver in the Bond film Tomorrow Never Dies.

They are right to do so because certainly the ownership of large chunks of the media by a few huge corporations can’t be a good thing but how do we develop and build a new independent press especially when the media is governed by such stringent rules?

As far as I’m concerned (and shoot me down if I’m wrong) a free press should be exactly what it says it is, it should be free. It shouldn’t be ruled by judges, politicians or celebrities with their own agendas, it shouldn’t be licensed or taxed.

In reality what the media needs is to get back to the roots of what it is all about, it needs to be able to report what is in the public interest, fuel debate, contribute to our democracy and investigate as and when required like that shown in The Sunday Times when uncovering the Athletics Doping Scandal that shocked the world.

Freedom is a complicated business but it’s no good having the wealthy and powerful telling the masses what we can and cannot read, view and hear in the news.

Only the public can decide what is fit for public consumption, except maybe on certain matters pertaining to national security when disclosure would do more harm than good.

John Wilkes was imprisoned in the Tower of London for publishing a newspaper which claimed “The liberty of the press” is the “Birthright of every Briton” we’ve come a long way since those days but it does seem that we still have a long way to go to see the sort of free press that we deserve in this country and indeed the world.

Many people have many reservations about the press after the phone hacking scandal and subsequent Leveson Inquiry and report but people also need to remember the good things that the press have done and understand that it isn’t all bad.

In these days of automatic citizen journalism on social media such as Twitter and Facebook, which are regulated by whoever posts on them, maybe we need to remember that the articles we see in newspapers and reports we see and hear on TV or radio are all checked by editors before they can be published.

Journalism, for its turn, needs to report the news, promote debate and inform the public of matters that are in the public interest and act as the communication bridge between public figures such as politicians, film stars (Interviewing not advertising), sports stars etc and the public who they influence.

The press, in all its forms, is a vital part of our culture and democracy, it is a voice for the masses and can be a force for real good but, as in all walks of life, you will also find the occasional rotten egg and this is always what will be remembered and what we will be reminded about.

According to Freedom House only 14% of the worlds population now live in countries that enjoy a free press and a free press plays a key role in sustaining and monitoring a healthy democracy, as well as contributing to greater accountability, good government and economic development.

Therefore it seems that the advantages of a free press to the masses are there for all to see plainly but, unfortunately and unsurprisingly, because of the actions of a few the reputation of the media is not currently in a healthy state.

Unacceptable levels of media intrusion have caused undoubted pain and anguish to certain people who certainly didn’t deserve it and that can never be undone but the power and influence of the press can also be used very much for the public good as has been proved on many occasions.

If we are to ever have a free press we have to realise it isn’t about causing scandal it has to be about reporting facts and absolute truth. It can’t be controlled by a select group of powerful people trying to hide skeletons in their closet or people in positions of trust lying, it needs to be about the truth and reporting in the right way.

In his book Mick Hume says: Yes, what is needed is a change in the culture of the press- but more importantly still, a drastic change in cultural attitudes towards the press. (Hume, M) (2012) (There Is No Such Thing As A Free Press) (Exeter, Imprint Academic)

He then goes on to suggest that Better Fewer Laws, But Better are what’s needed. The notion that there are not enough legally- enforceable restraints on the UK media is a bizzare distortion of the truth. The British press is hemmed in and harassed on all sides by dozens of laws, and the list is growing. We need to get the states nose out of the newspapers and other media. The press has to be subject to the same system of criminal justice as everybody else. But no more than that. (Hume, M) (2012) (There is No Such Thing As A Free Press) (Exeter, Imprint Academic)


Cps.gov.uk, (2015). Legal Guidance: The Crown Prosecution Service: Prosecuting cases where public have disclosed confidential information to journalists. [online] Available at: http://www.cps.gov.uk/legal/p_to_r/prosecuting_cases_where_public_servants_have_disclosed_confidential_information_to_journalists/ [Accessed 31 Dec. 2015].

Encyclopedia Britannica, (2015). John Wilkes | British journalist and politician. [online] Available at: http://www.britannica.com/biography/John-Wilkes [Accessed 31 Dec. 2015].

Freedomhouse.org, (2015). About ‘Freedom of the Press’ | Freedom House. [online] Available at: http://freedomhouse.org/report-types/freedom-press [Accessed 31 Dec. 2015].

Hume, M. (2012). There is no such thing as a free press. [Luton, Bedfordshire]: Andrews UK Limited.

Journalism-now.co.uk, (2015). Media Law – Absolute and Qualified Privilege. [online] Available at: http://www.journalism-now.co.uk/media-law-absolute-qualified-privilege/ [Accessed 31 Dec. 2015].

Legislation.gov.uk, (2015). Defamation Act 2013. [online] Available at: http://www.legislation.gov.uk/ukpga/2013/26/section/4 [Accessed 31 Dec. 2015].

Legislation.gov.uk, (2015). Freedom of Information Act 2000. [online] Available at: http://www.legislation.gov.uk/ukpga/2000/36/contents [Accessed 31 Dec. 2015].

Leigh, D. (2011). Phone hacking: Met use Official Secrets Act to demand Guardian reveals sources. [online] the Guardian. Available at: http://www.theguardian.com/media/2011/sep/16/phone-hacking-met-court-order [Accessed 31 Dec. 2015].

McNally, V. (2015). Remember, That Famous Voltaire “Quote” About Free Speech Was Written By a Woman. [online] Themarysue.com. Available at: http://www.themarysue.com/voltaire-beatrice-evelyn-hall/ [Accessed 31 Dec. 2015].

Thejohnwilkesclub.com, (2015). Wilkes Quotes | The John Wilkes Club. [online] Available at: http://www.thejohnwilkesclub.com/wilkes-quotes/ [Accessed 31 Dec. 2015].

(Parliament Reports on the Law of Privacy and Injunctions, 2016)

Michael Buerk and Martin Bell comparison.

Michael Duncan Buerk was born on 18 February 1946 in Solihull (YouGov.co.uk). He was educated at Solihull School before going on to University of Sussex and then Cardiff Metropolitan University.

His first choice of career was the Royal Air Force (RAF) but his hopes were dashed for this when he failed an eyesight test at the selection centre.

He began his journalism career at the Bromsgrove Messenger, South Wales Echo and the Daily Mail before joining Radio Bristol in 1970 (BBC On this day).

He became a BBC news reporter in 1973 and went on to become the corporations South Africa correspondent in 1983 until his uncompromising reports about the brutalities of the regime there during the dying years of Apartheid led to him being expelled by the government of the day in 1987.

He is best known for his reports of the “Biblical famine” from Korem in Ethiopia which was first broadcast on 23 October 1984 and ultimately led to the Band Aid record Feed the World and the Live Aid concerts at Wembley Stadium, and in the USA on 13 July 1985.

Watching that report from Ethiopia you can tell that he slightly lowers his voice to give off a sense of hopelessness because of what he’s reporting about, sometimes he just goes silent and let’s the pictures do the talking telling the viewer everything they need to know.

He is also known for being the first news reporter on the BBC at the start of the new millennium when he made the bulletin at 01.00 on 1 January 2000.

He has crossed swords with the BBC on occasion including expressing disappointment at their decision to move the Nine o’ Clock News to its current slot at 10 o’ Clock (BBC On this day).

He has also openly criticized the “Pressure to deliver” that is put on today’s news reporters.

He has also been known to court controversy and the BBC had to issue an apology when he criticized the victim in the Ched Evans rape case for being drunk at the time.

He had to be airlifted out of Addis Ababa in 1991 after a munitions dump exploded, killing his Kenyan sound recordist, John Mathai, and injuring Mohammed Amin, the cameraman who had accompanied him to Ethiopia in 1984 (BBC On this day).

By the time of that incident he was turning his hand to presenting, and had become one of the main anchors for the BBC Nine o’ Clock News. He also began presenting non-news programmes such as BBC 1’s 999 and, on BBC Radio 4, the ethical debating programme, The Moral Maze, and interview series The Choice.

Other reporting credits in his portfolio include North sea oil begins to flow (3 November 1975), Duchess opens massive Selby coalfield (29 October 1976), Violence erupts at Irish hunger strike protest (18 July 1981), Queen fends off bedroom intruder (9 July 1982), Parents can stop school beatings (25 February 1982) and Europe grants emergency aid for Ethiopia (25 October 1984).

He announced his retirement from News Presenting at the end of 2002 but continued presenting other programmes beyond then (BBC On this day) and also entered the jungle for I’m A Celebrity… Get Me Out of Here in 2014.

One of his famous quotes is, “It’s the little things that you notice in this cacophony of misery… The whole thing is emotionally overwhelming. “You take some sort of refuge in the mechanics of the job that you do… but there are limits, and it got very close to the limit of being able to function in the midst of all that, because you feel an overwhelming sense of inadequacy. “The only Europeans who were there were aid workers, and you weren’t, you were just a journalist, and at that particular moment I couldn’t think of a more useless occupation.”(BBC On this day)

Martin Bell OBE was born on 31 August 1938 in Redisham. He was educated at The Leys School in Cambridge and then went on to King’s College, Cambridge where he gained a First Class Honours degree in English and also served on the committee of the Cambridge University Liberal Club.

He didn’t gain a commission so served his two years of National Service as an acting corporal in the Suffolk Regiment, during which he was involved in active service in Cyprus during the emergency involving an Insurgent campaign by the Greek Cypriot militant group.

He joined the BBC as a reporter in Norwich as a 24 year old following his graduation in 1962. He was called to London three years later and over the next 30 years he reported from 80 countries and covered 11 conflicts (BBC On this day).

He made his name reporting from Vietnam in the 1960s and then went on to cover wars in the Middle East, Nigeria, Angola and Rwanda, he also had numerous assignments in Northern Ireland.

He won the Royal Television Society’s Reporter of the Year award in 1977 and again in 1993 and was awarded an OBE in 1992. He was let down by his “Lucky” white suit in 1997 when he was badly wounded by shrapnel whilst delivering a bulletin from Sarajevo (BBC On this day).

What he saw in Bosnia led to him making the surprise announcement that he was leaving the BBC and entering politics just 24 days before the 1997 General Election. His legendary fight for the safe Conservative seat at Tatton, on an independent, anti-corruption ticket, made him a symbol of the revolt against perceived sleaze in the governing Conservative party at the time. He won the seat with a majority of 11,077, overturning the tory majority of over 22,000 (BBC On this day).

Despite describing himself as an accidental MP he was persuaded to run for Parliament again in 2001 for the constituency of Brentwood and Ongar in Essex where the sitting Conservative MP Eric Pickles, much like Neil Hamilton in 1997, was embroiled in controversy, however this time he was unsuccessful and so ended his political career (BBC On this day).

He then made a brief return to TV journalism in 2003, providing analysis on the second invasion of Iraq for ITN’s Channel Five News, he compiled short stories from daily video coverage that gave a uniquely historical and humanitarian perspective that was in stark contrast to much of the mainstream media at the time.

He is now a Unicef Ambassador and describes himself as “Too old” for journalism and politics although he still comments now on the state of modern journalism (BBC On this day).

His reporting credits include, Moscow calls for UN action against Israel (13 June 1967), De Gaulle: Back me or sack me (24 May 1968), Civil Rights protestors defiant (10 January 1969), IRA Bomb kills six at Aldershot barracks (22 February 1972), ‘Anti IRA Spies’ break out of jail (11 March 1974), Dozens Die as Israel retaliates for Ma’a lot (16 May 1974), Mercenaries trial begins in Angola (11 June 1976), Sadat in US for Middle East talks (3 February 1978), Carter wins Panama Canal battle (18 April 1978), Nuclear Leak causes alarm in America (28 March 1979), Skylab tumbles back to earth (11 July 1979), Sandinista rebels take Nicaraguan capital (17 July 1979), Reagan beats Carter in landslide (4 November 1980), US Guilty of backing contras (27 June 1986), Superpower treaty to scrap warheads (18 September 1987), Irangate colonel avoids prison (5 July 1989), Earthquake hits San Francisco (17 October 1989), Failed Bosnian ceasefire threatens peace (25 July 1993) and US Peacekeepers pour into Bosnia (2 January 1996).

One of his famous quotes is, “It was once said of ITN’s Sandy Gall and myself that we had faces like the relief maps of the countries we were covering. The country in his case was Afghanistan and in mine was Bosnia, neither of which is blessed with regular features. But film star good looks were not then in the job description.”(BBC On this day)

He is also a member of the prestigious Frontline Club which is a club exclusively for war journalists.

Comparing the work of Michael Buerk and Martin Bell is like reading two bestsellers, both clearly put people at the forefront of their stories and let the pictures they are showing do the talking at different times. The main difference between them is in their voices, while Michael Buerk has a quite deep, almost forbidding, voice, Martin Bell is higher pitched and he tends to talk that much faster as well, both though are very clear and intelligible and very descriptive at times.

You will also find that they have much of their impact by keeping their sentences short and they always report the most newsworthy aspects of their stories.

In his report from Ethiopia on 23 October 1984 Michael Buerk would at times just go silent for 10 to 20 seconds and allow the pictures to do the talking for him and the only time you saw him was when he was interviewing an aid worker from Medicins Sans Frontieres.

Martin Bell on the other hand, certainly in his time in Bosnia, would do a piece to camera with troops either around him or behind him.

The times when you see Michael Buerk reporting with armed people near him are in his reports from South Africa when he covered the violence caused by Apartheid.

In his report for Newsnight about the death of Nelson Mandela Michael Buerk took us back to the days of Apartheid before Mandela was released from prison and also struck us with a film that showed two completely different sides to 1980s South Africa.

In the film he showed Apartheid related violence with guns being fired and riots, then in one swift move he took us to the part of South Africa he lived in while there, just 12 miles away from the violence, where there was a banquet in an exclusive white suburb which was a different world altogether to the townships.

After showing the banquet in very plush surroundings he suddenly took us back to the townships where death and violence reigned. Looking through Michael Buerk’s autobiography The Road Taken (Hutchinson, 2004), there are pictures that hold particular fascination like a photo of him in Ethiopia, one of him interviewing Margaret Thatcher and one of him stood with Nelson Mandela.

Both of them do appear to absolutely immerse themselves in their surroundings and genuinely give a voice to the people they are reporting on like the starving, the terrorized, the dead and dying.

There is no holding back from extremely disturbing images in their reports as well. Both show extreme violence, dead bodies and genocide and will also show both sides of the story no matter what the story as shown by Martin Bell when he shows troops firing on civilians.

One very interesting interview with Martin Bell, which can be viewed on You Tube, is when he is interviewed at The Frontline Club in which he talks about his career covering different conflicts in front of a packed audience.

They are both massively influential and still very well respected in their own ways. You can see impressions of the work they did in modern journalism and both are still very well spoken about by their colleagues and have both very much earned their respective places in journalism history and their influence will clearly continue to have an effect in time to come.

Current journalist’s such as Rageh Omaar and BBC News special correspondent Caroline Hawley have since picked up the baton from their elder statesmen and continue to show a similar style of reporting due, no doubt, to the massive influence of Michael Buerk and Martin Bell.

The awards and personal accolades that both have been awarded are clearly very deserved, looking back on their remarkable careers you can only be inspired by them especially when seeing how their work has stood the test of time and is still very relevant to this day.