Hacked Off! Saturday 9 May, 6.30 – 7.30pm
This fascinating and lively discussion between Carol Hirschfeld (former TV3 newsreader and currently Head of Content at Radio New Zealand) and Nick Davies (journalist at The Guardian) kicked off with a question about the very recent UK election (with a result that Davies called “fantastically depressing”). Hirschfeld noted that Davies had tweeted “Maybe Rupert has won it again” – the first and by no means last reference to media mogul Rupert Murdoch. Davies is the investigative journalist who broke the phone hacking scandal in Britain, a story that eventually brought down the newspaper News of the World, led to the trial of Rebekah Brooks, and triggered the Leveson Inquiry – so good job to the organizers of the Festival for getting such a big fish to Dunedin! Rupert Murdoch was in many ways the common theme throughout this evening.
Davies (right) described him as “the bully in the playground” who ruled through fear and exerted an unprecedented control over not only the British media but also over politics. During the later Q&A session, Davies was asked what had shocked him the most during his work on the phone-hacking scandal, and for him (and for me) one of those things was coming to understand “what goes on in the corridors of power” – as Davies put it, “Rupert Murdoch’s fingerprint [is] all over our democracy”. As the session continued, the extent of Murdoch’s (mis)use of power continued to amaze and disgust me, and I think the rest of the audience was equally fascinated and repelled. The discussion of the Milly Dowler case, and the power and willingness of Murdoch’s people to force politicians into doing what they wanted, drew sounds of shock and horror from the audience.
Nick Davies himself is a fascinating man – energetic, enthusiastic, animated, and an incredibly good storyteller with plenty of opinions expressed in eminently quotable ways. In other words, he had the audience utterly in the palm of his hand within three minutes of walking on stage. His ability to pepper his stories with precise details to give context meant it was a real pleasure to just sit back and listen to him talk (which is what Carol Hirschfeld did, thankfully, refraining from attempting to interrupt or steer the conversation in artificial ways). Moreover, Davies’s nose for BS and his insistence on fairness was well evidenced during the session. Interestingly, when talking about the Rebekah Brooks case, he lamented the shocking disparity in funding between Brooks’s/Murdoch’s lawyers and the woefully underfunded lawyers for the State, but went to some lengths to emphasise that this did not mean he thought the legal system had acquitted Brooks wrongly or that she was acquitted just because Murdoch threw his money behind saving her.
Despite all he’s seen, Davies doesn’t seem to have lost his belief in fairness and justice, even in the institutionalized form of the legal system, and, again, despite all the travesties he saw take place in the media, he clearly hasn’t wearied of his love for journalism and the values it’s supposed to uphold. Fittingly, he received very warm applause from the audience at the close of this captivating session.
Reviewed by Febriani Idrus