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University of Wisconsin–Madison

Phone-hacking and media consumers: Why is the public off the hook?

Read the analysis of the Murdoch phone-hacking scandal, as it deepens and broadens, and you will search in vain for one salient factor: the British public’s strong support for tabloid journalism and its dubious ethical practices.

Many of the public who enjoyed the content of the News of the World and the other powerful London tabloids now sit in ethical judgment of the journalists who provided them with years of titillating, salacious journalism characterized by information gathering processes that everyone has known for years were questionable. Now we know they were illegal and tended to corrupt major institutions.

The members of the public who supported this journalism bear some responsibility for its excesses. They encouraged tabloid journalists to keep crossing the ethical and legal lines until despicable acts were done in the name of “getting the story.”

This fact does not this justify unethical practices by journalists; it simply means that the public cannot self-righteously stand back and condemn the journalists. The public must also ask themselves some tough questions: If I really believe in responsible journalism, then what media should I support? What papers should I purchase? What TV news shows should I watch?

Responsible journalism requires both a responsible core of journalists and a responsible public.




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