The News of the World phone hacking scandal has ignited an international discussion on ethics in journalism. News organisations are both distancing themselves from News International's tactics and taking a second look at their own policies. In light of recent phone hacking allegations by a former employee, Trinity Mirror announced today that it will be conducting a review of editorial procedures and controls across its publications.
The investigation is due in large part to James Hipwell, who worked at The Daily Mirror from 1998 to 2000. In an interview with The Independent, Hipwell said phone hacking was "endemic" and "seen as a bit of a wheeze". This revelation, as well as his statement that he was willing to testify to authorities, was the first concrete accusation of phone hacking at a publication outside of News International. If the investigation brings back evidence supporting his claim when it concludes in September, this could blow the lid off of the scandal, pulling the entire tabloid industry in an uncomfortable position.
The UK media has been under increased scrutiny since the story exploded earlier this month. However, it is not the first time ethical journalism issues have come up. According to the Associated Press, a 2006 report by the British Information Commissioner's Office said its investigation of a detective identified 305 journalists at over 30 publications involved in the illegally trading personal information. Some of the personal details were taken from the national police databases or the UK vehicle-licensing agency.
Not much has changed since then. Although some have spoken out in defense of the UK's Press Complaints Commission, it is not always effective when it comes to newsroom policy. This is not due to a failure to do its duty, but rather because of the nature of the organization. It acts on complaints and does not take it upon itself to investigate until a complaint has been filed. Generally, complaints are based on published content, not the inner workings of newsrooms. The PCC's job is not well suited to uncover wide-spread phone hacking.
If the Trinity Mirror's review reveals the same kind of endemic phone hacking that News of the World is accused of, the publisher would do well to be as transparent as possible. When News International wrote off its royal phone hacking scandal in 2009 as a single isolated incident, it only created a more trouble for itself today.