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How not to get your phone hacked

July 14th, 2011 | 3 Comments | Posted by in Mobile

In the wake of the News of the World phone-hacking scandal some major news organisations have sent out emails to journalists and other members of staff advising them to protect their phone against hacking.

As this blog post by mobile phone security expert David Rogers points out, hacking is a misnomer. What went on at News of the World was “illicit access to voicemail messages”.

Rogers’ post points out various methods that could have been used to do this. Here are ways to keep your voicemail secure. Okay, so it is unlikely that journalists will be voicemail-hacking in the future but conmen and women may now have ideas.

How hacking took place:

1. By using default PINs

Mobile phone voicemail boxes are set up so they do not require a PIN or use one of several default codes which can be worked out by a two minute internet search.

Solution: You’ll need to set up a PIN by following the advice from your phone company. There are step-by-step instructions on how to do this for Vodafone, O2, Orange, and T Mobile. A quick search will help you if you are with an alternative carrier.

You can also set up or change your voicemail password on your handset. (On an iPhone this is found in settings / phone / change voicemail password.)

2. By using default PINs and remote access

Rogers explains in his post:

Operators often provide an external number through which you can call to access your voicemail remotely.

This was one of the mechanisms allegedly used by the News of the World ‘phone hackers’ to get access to people’s voicemails without their knowledge.

Solution: Find out the remote access number for your voicemail from your phone provider and set up a PIN using the links above.

3. By calling your own phone

When you want to access your voicemail remotely you can do so by calling your own phone number and interrupting the voicemail message by pressing *.

Rogers points out:

Claims about the voicemail hacking scandal say that one journalist would call up a celebrity to engage the phone while another would then go into the voicemail using this method.

Solution: Set up a PIN using the links above.

There is more advice and a more detailed explanation on how voicemail hacking took place at this link.

This Mashable post on how to protect your phone is also worth reading, particularly if you are an Android user.

Image by John Karakatsanis on Flickr. Some rights reserved.

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Ben Bradshaw’s speech in full: BBC has probably ‘reached limits of reasonable expansion’

September 17th, 2009 | 5 Comments | Posted by in Broadcasting, Events

Ben Bradshaw’s speech from the Royal Television Society’s binnenial convention in Cambridge last night, his first since becoming the British culture secretary in June. In his speech he criticised James Murdoch’s recent comments in Edinburgh and discussed regulation, regional news and public service broadcasting. The headline grabbing comments concerned the BBC: Bradshaw said that there could be a case for a ‘smaller licence fee’ and also suggested that the BBC Trust model is not ‘sustainable’.

Twenty years ago I had the good fortune and privilege to be the BBC correspondent in Berlin. I had arrived there in the beginning of 1989 – as a rookie reporter from BBC Radio Devon – to a posting considered a bit of a backwater.

Not much had happened in Berlin since the wall had gone up. My predecessor’s biggest story in four years was the death of the elderly Nazi, Rudolph Hess, in Spandau Prison. Within weeks of my arrival, the East Germans were revolting and in just a few short months the Berlin Wall was
down. In career terms – it was very lucky timing.

I’ve been recalling the events of 20 years ago quite a lot recently. Not just because of the impending anniversary, but because of the loud and bad tempered debate in Britain about the future of public service broadcasting in general and the BBC in particular.

 I have many memories of that time in Berlin, personal and professional.

But one of the most abiding is of the stream of East Germans in the days after the Wall came down, who were able, for the first time, to visit the BBC office in West Berlin. They came to say ‘thank you’ for the programmes that had sustained them during decades of Communist rule.

When I asked them why they listened to the BBC, rather than the much better resourced Deutsche Welle, or the West Berlin stations or the Voice of America, they gave a variety of answers, but there was a common theme: “You don’t preach to us. You don’t treat us East Germans as second class Germans. Your news is fair. You don’t pretend everything in your own country is perfect, so we believe what you say about other things. You allow different voices.”

Broadcasting – changing world

The two decades since the fall of the Berlin Wall have seen a profound and accelerating change in our media landscape. You know better than most the journey from the analogue world of three heavily regulated broadcasters and a small add-on commercial market, to the digital world where the market is much larger, with a multimedia element, and where the public intervention is represented essentially by the BBC, with a self-funding Channel 4 gingering up the public service end.

It has been a transition from what could be called a command and control to a mixed economy.

In that transition some things have been lost or endangered – plural provision of children’s programming, high-end drama and, across all media, the viability of commercially provided news, locally, regionally and in the Nations.

But the changes have also brought huge gains for the consumer and for the industry. There is a choice of programming and of technology-driven convenience and quality unthinkable back then. Although current trading conditions are tough, the industry is fundamentally healthy both commercially and creatively, winning Oscars, Emmys and Golden Globes.

Our production sector makes the UK the world’s largest programme exporter after the US and by far the leading exploiter of programme formats, with over half of the global market.


 This mixed economy has served the interests of the public, both as citizens and as consumers. It would seem to be what people want.

When we do intervene or regulate, we try to do so in a way that best allows the market to grow, to evolve, to expand. And we try to do so in ways that sustain the core values to which the public continue to attach importance – impartiality in news, effective protection for children and so on.

In the last 20 years, the private/public mix has continued to innovate to anticipate and reflect public taste.

Technical innovations such as Sky Plus, High Definition and the iPlayer; an impressive range of innovation in content, from new talent to new formats; new regulatory models encouraging the growth of the independent sector outside London. And – at the centre of public provision – a strong, stable BBC with the security of income fixed for several years at a time to ensure its independence, both politically and commercially.

As we come towards the end of the transition from the old analogue world to the fully digital world, the challenge is to secure a consensus on whether our mixed economy remains the right approach – which I believe it is – and how to maintain it for the long term.

This is an appropriate point at which to thank Stephen Carter and his team for their excellent work in Digital Britain which provides both the long-term framework for government’s policy on the digital economy and our next steps.

Competing visions for future of public service

Just as we are approaching the 20th anniversary of the fall of the wall we have just marked another significant 20th anniversary – that of a Murdoch making a speech about the media in Edinburgh.

Murdoch speeches in Edinburgh are designed to be – how should I say – thought provoking. And James’ certainly was. Among his most striking assertions were that profit is the only guarantor of independence; that people are better informed if broadcasting is left to the market; that regulation needs sweeping away; and what he called state sponsorship – by implication the BBC – must be far, far smaller.

Profit the only guarantor of independence? I’m not sure that the market has secured the independent quality broadcasting that citizens in some modern democracies might expect. As for the market informing people better – that has not been my experience travelling around the United States, compared with the more regulated mixed media economies of Europe.

No, I do not believe that the market alone can deliver the plural sources and high standards of independent and impartial news and current affairs, let alone the richness of innovation and quality in other areas like drama, comedy, natural history and children’s programmes for which Britain is envied worldwide. There are important areas of content as well as infrastructure that the public says it values, wants and expects, and that the unregulated market will simply not provide.

Future of public service broadcasting

I challenge James Murdoch’s use of the term Orwellian to describe Britain’s media landscape. Being publicly funded or subject to statutory regulation does not equate with state control. East German TV was state controlled. That’s why those East Germans valued the BBC – it was free, diverse, self critical.

And the British people understand the distinction between publicly funded and state controlled too. Otherwise they would not consistently say they trust the BBC more than any other media organisation – more than ever according to the latest survey, in spite of the summer media onslaught on
the corporation.

So James said things with which I profoundly disagree. But he also did us all a favour by asking legitimate questions and raising genuine concerns that our public discourse has been skirting around for too long. He was right to raise questions about the BBC’s size, its remit and its impact on the rest of the British media industry.

In the 20 years since I was reporting Berlin, the BBC has gone from being a service of two television channels, four national radio stations, a local radio network, a teletext service and some videotape sales, to a BBC with eight linear TV channels, several interactive and high definition channels, nine national radio stations and a dominant local radio network, the iPlayer, a world-leading online presence, and a commercial publishing, DVD , television and multimedia empire of some scale.

And if it were to continue on anything like that trajectory, the rest of the industry would be right to be worried and the mixed economy would be seriously imbalanced. 

Since James Murdoch’s speech the BBC has another review of itself, including, we are told, looking at its size.

And then Sir Michael Lyons comes up with his £5.50 ‘give-a-way’ and appears to be arguing he would rather the licence fee were smaller than the BBC share any of it to save regional news. What’s to be made of this? Is this really about the long term interests of public service content? I would just like to point out that the £5.50 is not the BBC’s to give away.

It was agreed on top of the current licence fee income for the BBC to fund help with digital switchover. However, Michael, if you want to return £5.50 from the BBC’s share of the licence fee to the public – or more if you wish – let me know and I’m sure it can be arranged!

This is not a serious or sensible way to have a debate about something as important as the future of the BBC and public service broadcasting. 

I happen to think the BBC probably has reached the limits of reasonable expansion.

 I believe the corporation is right to be looking more carefully at what it pays its stars and executives.

It is time for the BBC to allow the National Audit Office access to its accounts. 

I’m also concerned about the regulatory structure of the BBC.

Although the Trust has performed better than its predecessor, I don’t think it is a sustainable model in the long term. I know of no other area of public life where – as is the case with the Trust – the same body is both regulator and cheerleader.

And finally, there may indeed be a case for a smaller licence fee. But there is a proper timetable for determining that. One of the unbroken conventions adhered to by successive Governments, to avoid the suggestion of political interference in or pressure on the BBC, has been to respect the multi-annual settlement system. I resolutely believe that to be right. Any attempt to break that convention would rightly be seen as a direct assault on the BBC’s independence.

However, there will need to be a decision in around two years time on the licence fee after 2012. During the next Parliament the shape of the new Charter with the BBC will need to be agreed. This will beg even bigger questions than those I’ve already just posed. Do we as a nation still value public service broadcasting? Do we want the BBC to survive and, if so, what do we want it to do and how do we want to pay for it?

These are very profound and hard questions to answer. Harder than at any time since the BBC was born given the speed with which the media environment is now changing. They cannot and should not be resolved by the BBC reviewing itself. Nor by speeches by media moguls or politicians. The public also needs to be heard in this discussion. They pay for it after all. They are the customer.

This means that the process, the discussions and consultation in the run up to the end of this licence fee and charter period will need to be even more open, even more fundamental than those we conducted before the current settlement. A proper national conversation, certainly not a stitch up behind closed doors between BBC management and politicians. Only that way will whatever is agreed have the legitimacy to withstand the onslaught from the BBC’s enemies and critics and stand the test of time.

The regulatory structure

I have spoken about one way in which government intervenes in the market for public benefit – public service broadcasting, now let me turn to the other, regulation.

There are those who argue that because of the revolutionary changes to the broadcasting landscape the traditional approach to regulation is outdated. I agree: but our approach is not traditional. At the same time, however, this does not mean to say that we can or should do away with regulation all together.

It is often those who call loudest for deregulation and non-intervention in areas that affect them who are quickest to call for intervention and regulation where it benefits them. The fact that we have some of the lowest wholesale broadband prices in Europe is not an accident or the product of the market. It is the product of regulation that has enabled vigorous competition – including from new entrants.

There is a serious point here about the right kind of regulation. When it comes to regulating for convergence, it is worth remembering that in establishing Ofcom Britain led the way in Europe by bringing content, delivery and wireless spectrum regulation together in one place. Ofcom has done so with two-thirds of the staff and lower costs then the five bodies that preceded it. And it is our approach to wireless spectrum, of liberalisation, deregulation and market mechanisms that have become the new European model.

Of course regulation needs to evolve as consumers’ habits change. The key is to move with the public. They expect broadcasters to have a duty of care when running phone-in programmes. They still value the watershed. They still expect protection against offensive material beamed unbidden into their living room, as opposed to what they actively go and get from walking to the newsagent or surfing the internet. They enjoy the rumbustious opinion and style in the print media. But they trust the impartiality of broadcast news.

This is the strength of the mixed economy. However, that does not mean we are interested in regulation for regulation’s sake, which is why I want to change our approach on product placement. We’ll consult on this shortly and would hope to have any change in place in the New Year.

To the critics of our regulatory structure I ask the simple question: if regulation were a problem in itself, how is it our media market is amongst the most successful in the world? It is because we have got the right balance between public and private. We have stayed ahead of the game and, as our Digital Britain plans show, we are determined to maximise the future potential of the broadcasting industry.

A draft Digital Economy Bill is taking shape, ready for the next session of parliament. In addition to tackling unlawful file-sharing it paves the way for universal broadband – future-proofed – and for delivering digital radio and next generation-mobile services. Digital Britain commits us to a new remit for Channel 4, building upon the vision of Next on 4, moving it firmly into the digital age.

Andy Duncan was, of course, the driving force behind Next on 4 and I’m very grateful to Andy for the leadership he has shown Channel 4 through a period of unprecedented change in the media world. He has been instrumental in repositioning  Channel 4 for the digital age and I’m sure we all wish him all the best for the future.

This time last week the switch to digital TV reached its millionth home. The analogue system is only three years away from being switched off entirely. Three out of every four sets in the country now receive multichannel television – nine out of 10 households. And the Switchover Help Scheme we established has now helped more that 100,000 older and disabled people to switch, providing equipment, installation and aftercare.

Next month we will have many of the most influential global figures around the table at the inaugural c&binet conference – our Davos of the creative industries – aimed at identifying and supporting the most effective way of protecting, producing and commercialising creative work.

Regional and local media

I mentioned earlier the threat to plural news programmes in the regions and nations. As a former local newspaper and local radio journalist I would be acutely aware of the importance of good local news to the public, even without my constituents reminding me on a regular basis.

The high viewing figures for regional news are no accident. People want to know what’s happening in their patch. It helps maintain a sense of local and regional identity and pride. It plays a vital part in a democracy at holding local authorities, the NHS and other public organisations to account. It’s reporters and presenters have a far more intimate relationship with the viewers than those on the network.

When in the South West earlier this year Carlton amalgamated its former two news regions into one – based in Bristol – my constituents were not happy. They lost their dedicated ITV evening news programme produced and edited from Plymouth with an even more local opt out from Exeter. While the Carlton journalists do a valiant job of reporting their vast new region with limited resources, we all know that the economics of local and regional news are getting less and less sustainable. The poll we published yesterday showed 84% of the public think it’s important to have a choice of sources of regional and local news.

Seven out of 10 people want regional news on more than just one channel. And one cannot will the ends without the means. Two thirds of those questioned supported our idea of using the equivalent fraction of the licence fee that’s currently ring-fenced for switchover to secure plural regional news for the future. We said when we announced this in Digital Britain that we thought this was a fair, transparent and sustainable solution, but that we were open to other ideas.

We still are. I note Mark, your interesting suggestion of floating some of BBC Worldwide and I look forward to hearing more about this proposal. But we are determined not to lose plural news provision in the regions. It seems crazy that people all over the world can access the brilliant BBC website if we cannot provide a choice of quality regional news to people here at home.

The consultation closes 22nd September – after which it’s essential we press on with plans for three pilots of local news consortia, one each in Scotland, Wales and an English region, which we hope can begin in the course of next year.

Skills and talent

Plurality is not the only virtue of the local news consortia idea. They will also provide a valuable opportunity to find new skills and talent, opening up opportunities in the media to young people in cities like mine.

I very much hope that the Government can help you help the next generation of local journalists using not just these new consortia but in all the good work you already do to encourage young people and build skills.

The creative industries, the digital economy and the media are areas where this country is by nature and history strong. They make a large and increasing contribution to our national economy and will provide a significant proportion of the employment growth in the future.

That’s why, as part of the Government’s future jobs fund – my colleague Yvette Cooper and I have agreed to fund between 5,000 and 10,000 new jobs in the creative sector. I know some of you are already involved in this venture and I would urge more of you to come on board. The scheme will not only help thousands of young people whose employment prospects have been the worst hit by the global down turn – but they will help you and us find and nurture the creative and media talent of the future.

Conclusion

I have argued tonight that public service broadcasting has informed, entertained and enriched Britain, and generations of Britons. The BBC has been central to that in the past and I hope will continue to be in the future.

Equally, the market has brought huge benefits. When those East Germans were streaming through the Berlin Wall 20 years ago, there were no mobile phones, let alone blackberries or multi-channel digital televisions. High-speed broadband, downloads and video-on-demand were glints in the eyes of the visionary few rather than central to all of your business models. It is the market that has driven and delivered this change.

This mixed economy – free but regulated, public service and private – has served Britain well.

In his Edinburgh speech, James Murdoch described it – actually you, Britain’s broadcast media – as the ‘Addams Family’ of the world’s media. I don’t know how you felt about that. And I assume he didn’t mean it kindly. But aren’t the Addams family a well-loved, long running, world-wide hit? And haven’t you, this British Addams family, won seven out of the 10 international EMMYs two years running? And don’t you export £1 billion of TV content every year? So, maybe on this definition of the Addams family, I finally find something on which James and I wholeheartedly agree.

Thank you.

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Jon Bernstein: Why ITV’s micropayment plan is unlikely to make the Grade

July 15th, 2009 | 3 Comments | Posted by in Comment, Online Journalism

ITV management had better hope Ben Bradshaw’s deeds are as good as his words, because its faith in an another revenue-generating scheme looks misplaced.

Bradshaw, the recently appointed Culture Secretary, told the Financial Times earlier this week that the BBC’s refusal to relinquish licence fee money to aid other broadcasters with a public service remit was ‘wrong-headed’. He said the corporation’s hierarchy would have to come to its senses sooner or later.

While the BBC fights the good fight against ‘ideological’ forces such as these, part of the network gave airtime to a would-be recipient of top-slicing: ITV’s executive chairman, Michael Grade.

On BBC Five Live last Thursday, Simon Mayo asked Grade about the YouTube Susan Boyle affair (some 200 million video views to date).

After describing YouTube’s proposed revenue-share for the Boyle clips as ‘derisory’, Grade insisted ITV wouldn’t get caught out again:

“We are working on it and watch this space, but we’re all going to crack it, either when the advertising market recovers or a combination of advertising and micropayments which is 50p a time or 25p a time to watch it.

“We may move in time, in the medium term, to micropayments, the same way you pay for stuff on your mobile phone. I think we can make that work extremely well.”

(You can listen to the interview on the iPlayer until midnight Wednesday 15 July. Grade interviews starts around 1 hour, 22 minutes.)

Despite Grade’s confidence there are grave doubts that paying per clip is going to work. Here are four reasons to worry:

1. Micropayments don’t work for perishable goods
It’s an argument that has been made against charging for news stories, but it is equally applicable when you are talking about clips from a reality TV programme.

Quality drama may have a shelf-life and an audience willing to pay for it, but a water cooler moment from reality TV? Not likely.

The Susan Boyle phenomenon still feels vaguely current, but it is a passing fad.

If you’re unconvinced take this quick, highly unscientific test: would you pay 50p to watch the machinations of ‘Nasty’ Nick Bateman from the first series of Big Brother?

The correct answer: who’s ‘Nasty’ Nick Bateman?

2. Micropayments put people off
Writing back in 1996, social scientist Nick Szabo introduced the idea of mental transaction costs. He argued that no matter how small the payment, it still incurs effort on behalf of the potential buyer to work out if he or she is getting a good deal.

He wrote:

“The reason we don’t do the things is that they’re not worth the brain cycles: we have reached the mental accounting barrier.”

And that in a nutshell is why micropayments are doomed to failure.

It’s a theme Chris Anderson touched on in his recently released book ‘Free: The Future of a Radical Price‘. He wrote:

“It’s the worst of both worlds – the mental tax of a larger price without the commensurate cash. (Szabo was right: Micropayments have largerly failed to take off.)”

Unsurprisingly, Anderson advocates free as a preferable alternative to micro, but he’s not alone. New York professor Clay Shirky is with him.

In fact Shirky has been saying much the same thing since the beginning of the decade and his 2003 essay ‘Fame vs Fortune: Micropayments and Free Content‘ has become something of a set text.

3. Micropayments only work if you control distribution
ITV’s Grade rightly cites mobile phones as a great platform for micropayments.

The network operator controls what is available via the handset, limiting availability and ensuring prices won’t be undercut.

Further, the operator offers a simple and largely pain-free way of paying for goods by adding the cost to a monthly bill or subtracting it from a top-up on a pay-as-you-go phone.

But the web is different – it’s anarchic, open, a free-for-all.

Nobody controls distribution and despite efforts to chase down copyright abusers, there will always be someone ready to undercut your micropayment with an even smaller charge – free.

Opponents of this reading cite Apple’s iTunes Music Store as proof that micropayments can work on the net. But, as Shirky argued earlier this year, the fee-per-track model works because this is a rare example where no alternative exists.

“Everything from Napster to online radio has been crippled or killed by fiat; small payments survive in the absence of a market for other legal options.”

Further, Apple does control part of the distribution, successfully creating a market for the must-have iPod.

So despite Grade’s assertion, it’s unlikely any micropayment system on the internet will turn out ‘the same way you pay for stuff on mobile phones’.

Incidentally, it will be worth watching to see how the smartphone redefines this divide between the largely ordered phone network and the web.

4. YouTube clips drive traffic first, revenues second
If you think about a clip on YouTube as a direct money maker, you’ve got your priorities wrong.

It’s about reach, exposure and promotion. It’s about creating a buzz and driving traffic back to the core.

Did the Susan Boyle clip achieve this? No question.

For starters, video views at ITV.com were up 528 per cent year-on-year and advertising slots for the duration of the ‘Britain’s Got Talent’ season sold out.

Meanwhile, such was the interest around the show, the final was seen by 19.2 million people – ITV’s highest audience since England vs. Sweden in the 2006 World Cup. More eyeballs this year promises high advertising yields next.

In short YouTube kept its part of the bargain.

Would all that have happened had ITV charged 25p a clip? Would 200 million people have checked it out? Will a pay-per-clip Britain’s Got Talent be a winner?

The twist in the tale is that Grade, who steps down as executive chairman at the end of the year, won’t be around to find out.

Jon Bernstein is former multimedia editor of Channel 4 News. This is part of a series of regular columns for Journalism.co.uk. You can read his personal blog at this link.

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Tapping/hacking/blagging – the terminology

July 10th, 2009 | 3 Comments | Posted by in Journalism, Legal

Media reports refer to both ‘phone tapping’ and ‘phone hacking’ when discussing the Guardian’s investigation into the use of private investigators by News International journalists.

But what exactly were the PI activities alleged to have taken place at the request of journalists?

Phone hacking. This is the term the Guardian uses in its reports, which includes a number of alleged activities. It reported: “Hacking into messages on mobile phones is covered by the same law which now regulates phone tapping and other forms of covert information-gathering, the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act 2000, known as RIPA.” There is no public interest defence for breaking this law. Activities alleged by the Guardian include:

  • Hacking into mobile phone voicemail accounts, the crime NOTW journalist Clive Goodman and private investigator Glenn Mulcaire were convicted for in 2007.
  • Illegal hacking ‘into the mobile phone messages of numerous public ­figures to gain unlawful access to confidential personal data, including tax records, social security files, bank statements and itemised phone bills’.

Guardian tech editor Charles Arthur describes how, in further detail at this link, voicemail hacking can be done very simply – via the four digit pin code.

  • However, new methods could now be in use by PIs (no specific allegations made). Arthur quotes a senior security analyst at McAfee: ‘a number of products [are] out there which claim that they will let you listen to someone’s mobile conversations, forward their SMSs and tell you the numbers they have dialled’.
  • In addition, Arthur reports, ‘it might be feasible to clone the connection between a Bluetooth headset and phone so an eavesdropper could connect to the phone while its owner was briefly out of earshot. A hacker could get numbers and contact information’.

Phone tapping. Assistant commissioner for the Metropolitan Police, John Yates, in his statement yesterday, referred to the Mulcaire and Goodman case. He said:

  • “Our inquiries found that these two men had the ability to illegally intercept mobile phone voice mails, commonly known as phone tapping.”

However, the term ‘tapping’ can also indicate other kinds of interception of communications systems e.g wire tapping / obtaining post. In this BBC Q&A from 2006 it is stated that there are three ways a mobile phone can be tapped:

“This can be done either at the handset, or during the conversation – which is illegal and very expensive – or through the mobile phone company which connects the device.”

Blagging. The Guardian reports that this could include obtaining access to confidential databases, such as telephone accounts, bank records and information held by the Driver and Vehicle Licensing Authority, which is covered by a different law, the 1998 Data Protection Act: “Section 55 makes it an offence to gain unauthorised access to such data, punishable by a fine. However, unlike RIPA, this offence carries a public interest defence.”

The Guardian reports on a series of ‘dark arts’ methods used by PIs, including:

  • Obtaining ex-directory landlines, tax records, social security files, bank statements, mobile numbers, people’s addresses or people’s phone bills and medical records.
  • Conning BT, the DVLA, mobile phone companies and other organisations into handing over private details.
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Nick Davies told Commons committee in April that PCC phone hacking inquiry flawed

July 9th, 2009 | 2 Comments | Posted by in Journalism, Legal

You may recall that back in April Nick Davies gave evidence to the House of Commons Culture, Media and Sport select committee, for its review into press standards, privacy and libel.

In the course of that session he claimed there was ‘a real will on the part of the PCC [Press Complaints Commission] to avoid uncovering the truth about phone hacking’ and that newspapers still used private investigators: “It is wrong but they are not doing anything about it and that continues despite Motorman [investigation undertaken by the Information Commissioner's Office into alleged offences under data protection legislation.] All that has happened is that they have got a little bit more careful about it. I actually got to know that network of private investigators who were exposed in Motorman. Years after that I was in the office of one of them and he was taking phone calls from newspapers while I was there.”

The committee chairman, John Whittingdale, said: “We did do an investigation both into Motorman and into Goodman so I do not want to revisit old ground too much”.

The same committee which today announced it will open a new inquiry ‘into the Guardian revelations about the use of illegal surveillance techniques by News International newspapers’ (Guardian.co.uk).

Yesterday Nick Davies’ Guardian exclusive – which reported Murdoch papers paid £1m to silence victims of phone hacking – alleged that the evidence posed difficult questions for the PCC: it has ‘claimed to have conducted an investigation, but failed to uncover any evidence of illegal activity,’ it was reported.

Davies is no friend of the Press Complaints Commission – as reported on Journalism.co.uk before – and used his appearance in front of the committee in April to argue that the ‘PCC’s performance is so weak that it threatens the concept of self-regulation.’

The PCC has stated today, in light of the new reports, that ‘any suggestion that further transgressions have occurred since its report was published in 2007 will be investigated without delay.’

Now, let’s look back at Davies’ comments in the Commons in April (from uncorrected evidence on House of Commons site). Davies laid the bait for us all, but it would seem only he pursued his allegations against News of the World, to secure yesterday’s scoop:

Mr Davies: It is that word that Roy [Greenslade] has just used that is the important one, their independence. They [PCC] are not sufficiently independent to do their job properly; they are not functioning as an independent referee. You could see it, for example, in the way they handled the Clive Goodwin [sic] story. There are newspapers publishing stories all over Fleet Street; there is a whole lot of hacking going on, hacking into mobile phones. They conducted an inquiry which was set up in such a way that it could not possibly disclose the truth about that illegal activity. Why? Why did they not conduct a proper, independent inquiry? It was the same with the information commissioner after Operation Motorman. We used the Freedom of Information Act on the information commissioner and got hold if the e-mails and letters between the commissioner and the Press Complaints Commission. You can see there the information commissioner saying, “Look, we have just busted this private eye. It is horrifying what newspapers are doing. Will you put out a clear warning to these journalists that they must obey the law?” The short answer was, “No, not if we can help it”. You may be familiar with all this —–

Q435 Chairman: We had an inquiry into Motorman.

Mr Davies: Did you have the e-mails and so on?

Q436 Chairman: We had representatives of News International and so on.

(…)

Mr Davies: Also, when he [Paul Dacre] goes into hospital to have operations on his heart, there is always a message sent round Fleet Street saying, “Mr Dacre’s in hospital, please do not report it”. Medical records are supposed to be plundered by Harry Hack with beer on his breath and egg on his tie. It is wrong but they are not doing anything about it and that continues despite Motorman. All that has happened is that they have got a little bit more careful about it. I actually got to know that network of private investigators who were exposed in Motorman. Years after that I was in the office of one of them and he was taking phone calls from newspapers while I was there. It has not stopped; it has just got a bit more careful. It had got so casual that every reporter in the newsroom was allowed to ring up and commission illegal access to confidential information, now they have pulled it back so that you have to get the news editor to do it or the news desk’s permission. It is still going on and it is against the law.

Q446 Paul Farrelly: Do you think the PCC missed a trick with its own standing reputation in not summoning Mr Coulson?

Mr Greenslade: I wrote at the time and have maintained ever since that the Goodman affair was a very, very black moment in the history of the PCC. This man was jailed for breaking the law. His editor immediately resigned but there were huge questions to ask about the culture of the News of the World newsroom which only the man in charge of that newsroom could answer. When I challenged the PCC about why they had failed to call Mr Coulson they said that he was no longer a member of the press. That seems to me to be a complete abnegation of the responsibilities of the PCC for the public good. In other words, to use a phrase Nick has already used, it was getting off with a technicality.

Mr Davies: If you say to Coulson, “Come and give evidence even though you are no longer an editor” and if he says, “No” then that is an interesting tactical failure on his part. It is not just the editor of the paper; what about the managing editor? Why not call Stuart Kuttner, the managing editor of the News of the World, who has been there for years and who has a special responsibility for contracts and money? Why not call him to give evidence? There was a real will on the part of the PCC to avoid uncovering the truth about phone hacking.

Q447 Chairman: We did do an investigation both into Motorman and into Goodman so I do not want to revisit old ground too much.

Mr Davies: It is what it tells you about the PCC.

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Beatblogging.org: Globe and Mail/Reuters using Twitter photos of China riots

According to Beatblogging.org, the Globe and Mail featured five photos that all originally appeared on Twitter as part of its main story yesterday on riots in China.

The images were posted by Chinese citizens using the service and picked up by Reuters – the Globe and Mail took them from the agency’s service and attributed both Twitter and Reuters.

An example of, writes Beatblogging.org, news worthiness overriding photographic quality (the pictures are taken on mobile phones); and the importance of curation as a skill for journalists and editors (Reuters will have had to go through many photos before finding these images).

What’s more it shows the ability of social media and online communities to break through the great Chinese firewall:

“Rather than fear social media and other emerging Web technologies, news organizations should embrace these new technologies. In this case, the Globe and Mail was able to print five incredible photos that illustrate the upheaval and deadly violence in China. These photos would not be possible without social media, and the world would be poorer without these photos.”

Full post at this link…

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Todd Gitlin’s keynote JiC speech transcript: The four wolves who crept up to journalism’s door

Following our round-up of the Westminster students coverage of last week’s Journalism in Crisis conference, we’ll link to one final item:

Professor Todd Gitlin’s keynote speech, given via Skype, on the first day of the Westminster University / British Journalism Review Journalism in Crisis event (May 19):  ‘A Surfeit of Crises: Circulation, Revenue, Attention, Authority, and Deference’.

Gitlin, who is professor of journalism and sociology at Columbia University, talked about how four wolves have arrived at the door of journalism ‘simultaneously, while a fifth has already been lurking for some time’. These were the wolves no-one was expecting, because everyone’s been crying wolf for so long. Gitlin spoke mainly in regards to American journalism because ‘it is what I know best’.

He used quotes and statistics from the Pew Project for Excellence in Journalism ‘Changing Newsroom’ 2008 report, and also his own anecdotal evidence and academic references, to illustrate the predicament – which he feels is fair to call a number of ‘crises’ – that journalism faces.

Here are a few choice extracts:

  • The four wolves at the door, and the fifth one lurking: “One is the precipitous decline in the circulation of newspapers.  The second is the decline in advertising revenue, which, combined with the first, has badly damaged the profitability of newspapers. The third, contributing to the first, is the diffusion of attention.  The fourth is the more elusive crisis of authority. The fifth, a perennial – so much so as to be perhaps a condition more than a crisis – is journalism’s inability or unwillingness to penetrate the veil of obfuscation behind which power conducts its risky business.”
  • Circulation of newspapers: “Overall, newspaper circulation has dropped 13.5 per cent for the dailies and 17.3 per cent for the Sunday editions since 2001; almost 5 per cent just in 2008.  In what some are calling the Great Recession, advertising revenue is down – 23 per cent over the last two years – even as paper costs are up.  Nearly one out of every five journalists working for newspapers in 2001 is now gone.  Foreign bureaus have been shuttered – all those of the Boston Globe, for example, New England’s major paper.
  • “I have been speaking about newspapers’ recent decline, but to limit the discussion to the last decade or so both overstates the precipitous danger and understates the magnitude of a secular crisis—which is probably a protracted crisis in the way in which people know—or believe they know—the world.  In the US, newspaper circulation has been declining, per capita, at a constant rate since 1960. The young are not reading the papers.  While they say they ‘look’ at the papers online, it is not clear how much looking they do.”
  • “The newspaper was always a tool for simultaneity (you don’t so much read a paper as swim around in it, McLuhan was fond of saying) at least as much as a tool for cognitive sequence.  What if the sensibility that is now consolidating itself—with the Internet, mobile phones, GPS, Facebook and Twitter and so on – the media for the Daily Me, for point-to-point and many-to-many transmission—what if all this portends an irreversible sea-change in the very conditions of successful business?”
  • The Clamor for Attention: “Attention has been migrating from slower access to faster; from concentration to multitasking; from the textual to the visual and the auditory, and toward multi-media combinations.  Multitasking alters cognitive patterns.  Attention attenuates.  Advertisers have for decades talked about the need to ‘break through the clutter,’ the clutter consisting, amusingly, of everyone else’s attempts to break through the clutter.  Now, media and not just messages clutter.”
  • “Just under one-fifth of Americans between the ages of 18 and 34 claim to look at a daily newspaper – which is not to say how much of it they read. The average American newspaper reader is 55 years old. Of course significant numbers of readers are accessing – which is not to say reading – newspapers online, but the amount of time they seem to spend there is bifurcated.  In roughly half of the top 30 newspaper sites, readership is steady or falling.  Still, ‘of the top 5 online newspapers –  ranked by unique users – [the] three [national papers] reported growth in the average time spent per person: NYTimes.com, USAToday.com, and the Wall Street Journal Online.’ One thing is clear:  Whatever the readership online, it is not profitable.”
  • “The question that remains, the question that makes serious journalists tremble in the U. S., is:  Who is going to pay for serious reporting?  For the sorts of investigations that went on last year, for example, into the background of the surprise Republican nominee for Vice President, Gov. Sarah Palin of Alaska.”
  • Authority: “Journalism’s legitimacy crisis has two overlapping sources: ideological disaffection from right and left, and generalized distrust. Between them, they register something of a cultural sea change.  The authority of American journalism has, for a century or so, rested on its claim to objectivity and a popular belief that that claim is justified. These claims are weakening.”
  • Deference: “We have seen in recent years two devastating failures to report the world – devastating not simply in their abject professional failures but in that they made for frictionless glides into catastrophe.  The first was in the run-up to the Iraq war (…) More recently, we have the run-up to the financial crisis (…) Given these grave failures of journalism even when it was operating at greater strength not so long ago, one might say that rampant distrust is a reasonable and even a good thing.”
  • Resolutions: “The Project on Excellence’s conclusion is that ‘roughly half of the downturn in the last year was cyclical, that is, related to the economic downturn. But the cyclical problems are almost certain to worsen in 2009 and make managing the structural problems all the more difficult.’ Notice the reference to ‘managing the structural problems.’  They cannot be solved, they can only be managed.  The unavoidable likelihood, pending a bolt from the blue, is that the demand for journalism will continue to decline and that no business model can compensate for its declining marketability.  No meeting of newspaper people is complete these days without a call – some anguished, some confident – for a ‘new business model’ that would apply to the online ‘paper.’  The call has been issued over the course of years now.  It might be premature to say so, but one might suspect that it has not been found because there is none to be found.”
  • “What I do know is that journalism is too important to be left to those business interests. Leaving it to the myopic, inept, greedy, unlucky, and floundering managers of the nation’s newspapers to rescue journalism on their own would be like leaving it to the investment wizards at the American International Group (AIG), Citibank, and Goldman Sachs, to create a workable, just global credit system on the strength of their good will, their hard-earned knowledge, and their fidelity to the public good.”

Full transcript at this link…

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allmediascotland: Brian McNair’s reflections on 15 years of Scottish weekend

February 23rd, 2009 | No Comments | Posted by in Editors' pick, Journalism, Newspapers

Following a week of significant changes on the Scottish media scene, Brian McNair shares some brief thoughts on the Scottish media environment. When he published a book about UK news and journalism 15 years ago ‘the internet wasn’t really on anybody’s radar in those days, and mobile phones were the size and weight of building bricks. The Sunday Herald was yet to be launched,’ McNair writes.

Full story at this link…

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EditorsWeblog: Emerging nations favour mobile internet access

December 12th, 2008 | No Comments | Posted by in Editors' pick

The Editors Weblog looks at an article from the Wall Street Journal that indicates “mobile phones are the primary way of accessing the internet for people in ‘emerging markets,’ or those with poor fixed-line telecommunications.”

Countries, such as Indonesia, have many areas ‘lacking high-speed cable broadband connections, DSL lines or even regular phone lines for dial-up service,’ the Wall Street Journal reported.

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Journalism in Africa: Kenyan editors reject ‘draconian’ communications bill

December 9th, 2008 | 1 Comment | Posted by in Journalism, Press freedom and ethics

Kenyan editors are demanding the government withdraws a bill from parliament that could give the state powers to raid media houses and seize broadcasting equipments at will.

Editors have described the Kenya Communications Amendment Bill 2008, also known as the ICT bill, as draconian and oppressive to a media that has previously successfully fought against the introduction of such an act.

Last year media practitioners took to the streets protesting the Media Bill 2007, which looked to force journalists to disclose their sources.

When first tabled, journalists sought the removal of sections that would bar cross-ownership of media – a move seen as an attempt to close down the nation’s largest media houses, The Nation and The Standard, which both own a broadcasting and print outlet.

David Makali, chairman of the country’s Editors Guild, has questioned why the government has hurried to enact the laws, arguing that it should concentrate on the passage of the Freedom of Information Bill that has been going through parliament for the last four years.

The Freedom of Information Bill seeks to replace the existing Official Secrets Act and improve access to public information by the public.

“Why is the government obsessed about controlling the media and seeking power to get into media houses at will, instead of freeing the ground for us to access information. What is the priority: punish media houses or inform the nation?” asked Makali.

Hannington Gaya, chairman of the Media Owners Association (MOA), said if passed into law, the repercussions of the bill, which mainly targets broadcasters, could be ‘even more dangerous’ than those from the Media Bill.

“This bill is illegal, immoral and unconstitutional. Through this bill, the information and communications minister and his internal security counterpart are working together to frustrate the freedom of press,” claimed media consultant and politician, Tony Gachoka.

According to Gachoka, the bill is meant to justify acts like the infamous raid on the Standard Group.

In March 2006, the then internal security minister, John Michuki, ordered a police raid on the Standard Group, resulting in a loss of millions of shillings.

In an unprecedented attack on the media, around 30 heavily armed and hooded police from the elite Kanga squad, ostensibly formed to fight armed and dangerous criminals, descended on the Standard’s offices at midnight, beating up employees, breaking doors, stealing employees’ mobile phones, removing CCTV cameras and carting away 20 computers.

Police officers later took broadcaster KTN TV off air for about 13 hours and disabled the Standard’s printing plant, setting light to thousands of copies of the day’s edition as it rolled off the presses.

In a phone interview information and communications minister Samuel Poghisio said the bill seeks to harmonise law and policy in the ICT industry, which is the fastest growing industry in Kenya.

The bill will be tabled in its current form, said Poghisio, adding that any further amendments will be done according to the vibrancy of the industry and that editors should await the passage of the laws in parliament to raise their issues.

“If they do not revise those issues we will seek redress in court,” responded Makali.

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