Sunday, November 19The Voice of London

Convicted phone hacker backs IMPRESS regulation

Impress has become an approved UK press regulator set up in response to Lord Leveson’s recommendations. Convicted phone hacker Graham Johnson backs new regulator.

 Reporter: Amie Stone | Sub-editor: Toby Walker

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Impress Logo

As a journalism student, preparing to step into a bullying news room culture can be daunting. You might wonder, ‘Is this for me? ’. There could be situations where you will be pushed to write stories that you believe to be unethical and inaccurate. Your hands will be tied because we are all trying to make a living and what the editor says goes. IMPRESS reckon they can change that.

Emma Jones, a board member of Impress visited the University of Westminster to tell students about the new regulator. She explains “you are under pressure to produce stories out of thin air,” she said. “You haven’t got the time to make thoughtful and ethical judgements”. She talks from first hand experience after being sacked from The Sun by Rebecca Brooks. However, the most interesting thing about her involvement is her long time partner Graham Johnson was a convicted phone hacker for News of the World and the Sunday Mirror.
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Graham Johnson

Graham Johnson visited alongside Emma and said “I never knew there was a code of conduct”. Mr Johnson pleaded guilty for hacking a soap stars phone back in 2014. He explain him or his colleagues were just trying to please editors and were pushed to do things they didn’t want to. He mentioned ‘Mazhar’ [Mahmood] a fews times and said “He wasn’t doing anything different to anyone else but he put his toe over the line”. Johnson spoke about how young journalists are pushed to the limit and it is just about getting a story. He hopes that faith in journalism can be restored. There was an atmosphere of ‘if we could do it again’ about his attitude. He showed support for his partner Emma and believes IMPRESS is the way forward.

IMPRESS appeals to smaller publications by paying for their legal fees. However, this could hurt many companies who refuse to be regulated, as they will have to cough up more than they did previously.
Toby Walker. By Amie Stone
Toby Walker. By Amie Stone

The official recognition of IMPRESS is seen as a threat to press freedom and an imposition of state power. Toby Walker, a third year journalism student said “This press regulation may prevent investigative journalists and whistle blowers from sticking up for themselves in law against the big companies they dish the dirt on. Publications will be less likely to pursue controversial stories”.

 Emma Jones and Graham Johnson were clear they didn’t want other young journalists to make the same mistake or be victimized by the overwhelming nature of a newsroom. Do we give up a bit of freedom to protect ourselves and others? Where do we draw the line of what is acceptable and not acceptable to print? Who should be the one to tell us what is and is not right?
Journalism is forever changing and it does not always have to be an either or option. Organisations are buying into Impress and if does not work they will soon walk the other way. The phone hacking scandal shocked the world and this could just be the consequence. It could be a case of trial and error until we do get it right, but if we don’t try we will never know.
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