National newspapers possess the freedom, funding and tenacity to invest in long-running, deeply scrutinizing investigations that can expose, embarrass and destruct corporations and individuals. Yet, they don't. The media proprietors prefer to divert their money toward the invention of scandal, no matter how half-baked or un-interesting.
This year has seen the return of the 'Fake Sheikh'. His first EXCLUSIVE! of the year exposed a barely memorable, former boxing champion. Herbie Hide was filmed and quoted saying what the majority of Joe Public had understood as common knowledge; that the boxing world is riddled with drugs and fraudsters who would happily accept a check with many 0's on it, rather than win a clean fight.
Herbie Hide offered to throw a world title fight - and told how a bout could be rigged so the favourite would go down in any round a punter chose. The grasping ex-heavyweight champ revealed in a series of meetings with undercover Sun reporters that he would be prepared to lose for £1million, resulting in huge bet payouts.
This 'World Exclusive' is an example of how the Sun on Sunday has picked up the mantle that the News of the World dropped when it was shut down in 2011. Despite the 41-year old boxer wanting to make a comeback, the front page exclusive is a result of probably several phishing exercises. It is arguably money well spent by News International, but the level of public interest in a semi-retired, moderately well known boxer, who's professional peak was more than a decade ago, hardly warrants the investigative priority of the biggest circulating newspaper in the United Kingdom.
Newspapers have the freedom to print this information, and as long as they procure it legally, they have every right to develop stings like the Herbie Hide situation. But if this is the role of a modern newspaper, to expose half-truths about non-celebrities, then journalism is not what it used to be.
Cause of death
Campaigners against Leveson's recommendations for press regulation cry threats to the freedom of expression. This week's cross-party royal charter success saw many proclaim the death of journalism in the UK, yet this couldn't be further from the truth.
The measuring stick held up against how free the press should or should not be, is sadly quite irrelevant. The newspaper industry is dying, and if not dying then it is certainly becoming an unnecessary luxury. And while this fact is accepted with a heavy heart, the original freedom of expression is pumping blood with greater strength than that of an Olympic athlete. The freedom of expression is still alive and kicking, but it lays with the press no more, and this is largely the newspaper's own doing.
A 21st century newspaper is little more than a press office for a wealthy business owner with political interests. The day Leveson's recommendations were made public; BBC aired its traditionally scheduled Question Time programme, with a majority theme based on the judge and his handy-work. Neil Wallis, former executive editor of the News of the World, criticised the 2000-page report for leaving a "gaping hole"; a detailed assessment of the digital and social media. He said, "what about Ryan Giggs? What about McAlpine? What about Guido Fawkes?" Wallis would later tweet a congratulations to Charlotte Church who also sat on the panel and put forward a well-constructed argument.
"Twitter and social media, and blogging is much closer to what the original idea of what the words freedom of the press meant. In 1660... the freedom of the press... actually meant was that any individual could use the print press for pamphleteering, for ideas that they had, for protest. Any individual could use this for mass circulation and I believe that social [media] is something much closer to that and what we've had for a long time is."
Social media and online journalism is a subject that should be looked at in depth. Websites associated with newspapers should be held to the same standards as the print product, as should official bodies, businesses and organisations. The royal charter offers this, but it requires more clarity.
There are thousands, perhaps millions of personal blogs that range in content. Some act as a way of sharing food recipes, or pictures from holiday, others comment on the government or discuss what businesses are thriving or failing on the local high street. These blogs represent what may be said down the local pub, or while two friends share a cup of tea. These blogs have relatively low readership, do not act as a form of income for the author, and pose very little personal or financial threat to others. They should not be subject to mass fines or forceful retraction, because they tend to discuss and debate honestly held views, representing the true meaning of freedom of speech.