6:55am

Mon February 6, 2012
A World Where Reporters Can Do Anything

Burriss on Media: Journalists & News Corp.

MURFREESBORO, Tenn. (WMOT) --  For as long as I can remember I’ve had an idea for a science fiction story about journalists. In the story we live in a world where journalists can do anything they want in pursuit of a story: lie, cheat steal, even murder. Of course, all of their stories are truthful, complete and accurate, so I guess there is some kind of trade-off.

Now, I find my fantasy story may not be as far-fetched as I had perhaps imagined.

A little more than a year ago News Corp was discovered to have hacked into telephone and e-mail accounts in pursuit of stories. The revelations led to the collapse and closure of the organization’s premier newspaper, News of the World.

Now, four more members of the parent organization have been arrested, and this time they are not simply reporters, but are senior news executives at the highest levels of the company. In addition the organization has turned over hundred of millions of documents that contain…well, no one is sure what they contain, but some staffers are saying they are concerned for their jobs, and there is the potential that what has been described as a “treasure trove” of documents may threaten other newspaper holdings.

Apparently many people at News Corp felt they could do anything they wanted in pursuit of a story.

To be sure, in a democracy journalists are accorded special rights and privileges that don’t apply to ordinary citizens. In fact, it’s been said that without a free press, democracy is impossible.

But even in a democracy there are limits to how reporters can gather the news, and what they can then do with the information they gather. Also coming into play is how important those facts and stories are to the functioning of the democracy. Hurtful gossip about ordinary citizens is generally considered off-limits. With regard to politicians and public figures, almost anything goes.

My short-story idea maybe shows the dangers of unfettered press freedom. Unfortunately, it may be more true than I thought.

I’m Larry Burriss.