I will readily admit that I am not one who follows scandals. I usually have way too much on my plate to care about most of the scandals they get dragged through the mud of the public consciousness and paraded like a circus to entertain those who are unable to keep their eye away from the glamorous. This blog is not about a scandal but rather about the effects that are sending ripples through the world of journalism. I am not a professional journalist--I am an armature at best-- and many could argue that I should leave this musing blog to those who are or who teach journalism. I am certain in our colleges and universities that teach journalism the events, both ethical and legal, or classroom fodder that may have even changed some of the curriculum.
What scandal could cause such a great effect and would suddenly appear on my musing blog, especially since this was not the original topic I planned to blog on? For those who are like me who do not follow the "scandal of the day" that "rocks the world record", let me give you a very short summary of events. In Great Britain there is a news agency, which has a branch in the United States and probably elsewhere in the world, which was caught in a phone hacking scandal. Out of all this, one of the newspapers related to his agency was closed and the sister news agencies owned by the same group find themselves under extreme legal and social pressure. This news agency hacked into cell phones and listen to people's voice mails to obtain information for sensationalized stories and have reportedly either bribed or blackmailed various people at all levels of government.
Before the reader believes that this blog is about such tactics, please rest assured it is not. Instead, this blog is about the ramifications that have come out of the scandal. What are those ramifications? The ramifications threatened and shake the professional journalistic society to its core. The ramifications are, under legal pressure, the management of one of the sister news agencies has surrendered the names of the confidential sources of their reporters without their reporters permission.
Great Britain and the United States, and other nations who practiced modern democracy, usually understand the necessity of the freedom of the press. It is this press that keeps, or should keep, the government of that nation in check and answerable to the people. It is not just the nation that answerable to the people, but also all levels of government. Is the freedom of press that uncovers the dangers the people would not otherwise know of and face the social issues of our day. It is the freedom of press that allow of a free society to debate what a national or societal response should be to an issue. One of the protection under the freedom of press and reporters have held as sacred as any oath taken by a physician or attorney or anyone who has sworn to protect the public good is the oath to protect their sources. Journalists have faced jail, suffered torture, and even sacrificed their lives to protect their sources.
Now, as a result of some bad business-- criminal -- decisions and abuse of power an industry that is critical to democracy is now under serious threat. Let me stop for just a moment and explain that the laws of United States are intertwined with Great Britain. We may be separate nations but are social influences on each other does extend to the legal realm. What is happening in one nation at this level can easily bleed into the other nation. The sacredness of the freedom of press is something that any educated American should hold to their bosom as something that should never be defiled. What will happen to a free society where the freedom of press is destroyed? The freedom of press has been guaranteed under the United States Constitution. But does the constitutional right to the freedom of press protect the press far enough in light of this new threat?
While it is my hope and dream the journalists in the United States will still find themselves free and able to uphold their right to protect their sources by anonymity, and I am sure that many Constitutional attorneys would be able that such rights have been promised under some Supreme Court decision somewhere in our short history. But, or history has also shown that what one Supreme Court decides can be overturned by future Supreme Court. As for now, all that can be done is to watch the unfolding events of the ramifications of the scandal and how it may hamper or handcuff the freedom of press in our nation and in others in the democratic world.