Newspapers: When Silence Might Well be Golden

When the late Ken Gallagher, some years ago, warned – from the top table at the Scottish Football Writers’ Association annual dinner – that colleagues should desist looking for diary stories from the evening, he was continuing a long but perhaps ignoble tradition.

If every other member of the public is reasonably fair game for reporting and comment, ought journalists also? But, very often, the inclination of hacks is to steer well and truly clear. As Gallagher might have said: whether fisticuffs or philandering, if there’s a journalist involved, spike the story.

The Times’ Angus Macleod’s failed defamation case against Alan Taylor of The Sunday Herald – see today’s Spike for the full report (or click here) – will therefore horrify those who feel journalists ought to respect the media equivalent of the Mafia code of silence, Omerta.

And horrified on not just one but two counts. Taylor wrote about Macleod – breaking the adage that journalists should not report on each other. And Macleod responded by breaking another, that journalists don’t sue each other.

But he felt defamed, he felt Taylor was suggesting he might be disreputable, and he went to court in pursuit of the principle of accuracy – which journalists ought to hold dear.

Because no-one reads the words in the media quite as closely as the those in the media. Intimately, they know the power of language, they understand the true meaning behind many a hackneyed phrase.

But very often an odd schism can then emerge, between that of the journalist thick-skinned about what they say of others, but thin-skinned over what is said about them.

So maybe Gallagher called it right. Once journalists start reporting each other, it can get just too messy.

Mike Wilson