Nick Davies discusses media power at Goldsmiths

Des Freedman and Nick Davies after the event at Goldsmiths. Pic: Giulia Sgarbi

Des Freedman and Nick Davies after the event at Goldsmiths. Pic: Giulia Sgarbi

Investigative journalist Nick Davies has called on the British public to be aware of the power that media moguls have on politicians in the UK in the wake of the Leveson enquiry and the phone hacking scandal.

Davies, speaking yesterday at Goldsmiths, said: “The media mogul’s power lies in fear, like a school bully. Powerful individuals are scared that he will expose their private lives on the first page of his papers, effectively ruining them. Or, even worse, publicly shame their parties or unions.”

Davies, who initiated the series of Guardian stories that led to the closure of News of the World following the hacking scandal, was concerned that not much has changed since the Leveson enquiry, but he was still optimistic about the future of journalism.

“Telling the truth is at the core of the profession of the journalist. The good thing is that this job still attracts a lot of young, idealistic reporters who want to do real, investigative journalism.”

He admitted, though, that “a lot of good journalists find themselves in bad organisations”. He talked about the commercial and competitive pressure that creates “ruthless behaviour” in journalists.

The event, hosted by the Media Forum in association with the Media Reform Coalition, saw Davies joined on stage by Goldsmiths’ academic Des Freedman.

Freedman, author of The contradictions of media power, was concerned that the new press regulator IPSO, launched in September this year, does not constitute a change for the better when it comes to monitoring journalistic standards.

According to Davies, IPSO “needs to change from within in order to become more like the organisation Leveson wanted”.

He argued that the UK needs a regulator independent both from the press and the government, but that the current power elite lacks “political muscle” to create such an organisation since it is so tied up with the media moguls that an independent regulator would disadvantage.

The audience questioned Davies over the meaning of investigative journalism today and how to find stories that can develop into something more than superficial news.

Davies proposed a comparison between news editors and the men in Plato’s cave who kept looking at shadows on the wall thinking it was the real world. In a similar fashion, editors who simply recycle PR material and other papers’ stories are only looking at the shadows.

“If you want to do investigative journalism, you have to be looking for the things that are wrong and the things that don’t make sense. Train yourself to notice those things everywhere, even in PR material. And if something doesn’t click, then you have it: that’s a story.”

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