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Murdoch hacking scandal: A lesson for news consumers

The hacking scandal at a Rupert Mudoch newspaper should put a spotlight on unethical reporting – and how news consumers can avoid such news outlets.

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The phone-hacking scandal of Rupert Murdoch’s now-defunct tabloid News of the World continues to ricochet across Britain, bringing down powerful figures. But if there is a long-term lesson in these revelations about the unethical tactics of some journalists, it is this:

Media consumers have choices and can choose not to read, watch, or listen to news dug up in ways that violate their own standards of decency. Methods do matter, not just results.

Judges don’t tolerate court evidence gathered by crooked means. Mall shoppers wouldn’t buy clothes made by child labor or purchase a diamond sold to fuel Africa’s wars. Many consumers don’t eat endangered fish species or use lumber unless it is cut from sustainable forests.

Industries respond to the standards of customers, and the news business is no different. The News of the World, for instance, had been open in the past about using private voice mails to reveal a sensational story, and yet millions of Britons of all classes continued to buy the publication. Only when it became known that the paper had hacked into the voice mail of abducted teenager Milly Dowler did readers finally react in moral outrage.

This scandal about a popular scandal sheet has forced Mr. Murdoch to close the 160-year-old newspaper and personally apologize to the dead girl’s family. Official probes are now under way about both the hacking as well as alleged bribes to police for tips on politicians, royalty, and celebrities.

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