Brian Cathcart visited University College Falmouth on March 9th, 2010 as part of UCF’s ‘Approaches to Journalism’ evening lecture series. Cathcart is a professor of journalism at Kingston University and media columnist at the New Statesman. He presented students and visitors with a presentation entitled ‘Collective Amnesia at the News of The World’, concerning the royal phone tapping scandal in late 2005/early 2006.
Although a lecturer at university, Cathcart seemed extremely nervous throughout his presentation. There were a lot of “erm’s” and long pauses; his words were frequently mumbled and he often found himself having to correct his facts. It was possibly the seriousness of his topic which made him so nervous. “This is the first opportunity I’ve had to talk about this,” he explained. But Cathcart has also written books about the Stephen Lawrence case and the murder of Jill Dando; controversial topics seem to be in his expertise.
Cathcart started his presentation by asking the audience to think back to 2005, and allowing them time to get themselves into the right mind-set. “Think now, we’re going to spend a bit of time there,” he said. “Think about where you were, what you were up to, who you were dating.” It was almost like a therapeutic daydream, or at least a session with your psychiatrist. “Get a grip of that year, because it’s the anchor to this story,” he said. And so his tale begun…
Cathcart proceeded to explain about the scandal involving Clive Goodman and Glenn Mulcaire. The main point of the presentation was that the courts ended up supporting that Goodman was the only person at the News of The World who knew about the phone interceptions. The Parliamentary Committee, however, criticised them for not following up other documents that had been found, which showed clear evidence of these phone interceptions involving other people.
The Parliamentary Report commented that it was inconceivable that no one else knew about the scandal, that it was a deliberate obfuscation and a collective amnesia and that silence had been bought. Cathcart held strong opinions against how the case was dealt with. “For me, the key in all of this is the point about…they’re dragging this up as 5 years old, when actually the stuff that really got them going was not 5 years old. It was the stuff that was happening right in front of their eyes,” he said. “I’m not terribly astonished by anything they do,” he said, adding, “You just don’t know where to begin with the shamelessness of it.”
His lecture ended on a high. He picked up confidence along the way, ending with jokes and gaining a few laughs. But this did not bring an end to his completely concrete views on the matter. “This is just a complete failure to recognize what normal, respectable people might expect of in terms of behaviour,” he said. “They go around ensuring us that they’re fully abreast to the PCC code and that everybody’s briefed on it constantly. And then you see this stuff – How can you possibly believe that?”
For further reading, read Nick Davies’ report.