Two recent high-profile court cases involving journalists are likely to evoke quite different responses from you as a reader, writes The Globe and Mail's public editor Sylvia Stead.

By Sylvia Stead, public editor for The Globe and Mail

Two recent high-profile court cases involving journalists are likely to evoke quite different responses from you as a reader.

The first is the conviction of former News of the World editor Andy Coulson for conspiring to hack private telephone accounts. The practice is illegal, but for years British tabloids tapped into the voice mails and cellphone conversations of anyone from royals, politicians and celebrities to a murdered schoolgirl.Coverage of the kidnapping and killing of 13-year-old Milly Dowler in 2002 was perhaps hacking at its worst. By listening to the girl’s messages before her body had been discovered, the News of the World led her grieving family to believe that she may have still been alive.

In the end, the backlash to the hacking revelations was so severe that owner Rupert Murdoch closed the News of the World, seen as the worst of the offenders. Even so, Mr. Coulson claimed his innocence for seven years, until he finally admitted that he not only knew what was going on but had, in fact, listened to a former cabinet minister’s messages himself. Mr. Coulson now faces up to two years in jail, but it’s highly unlikely that the public or his former colleagues in the media will champion his cause.

After leaving the paper, he became a media adviser to British Prime Minister David Cameron, who admitted this week that hiring him “was the wrong decision.”

Contrast that case with the appalling decision by an Egyptian court to jail three Al Jazeera journalists, including Canadian Egyptian Mohamed Fahmy, for seven years simply for doing their jobs.

Patrick Martin, The Globe and Mail’s Middle East correspondent, has reported that Egypt’s current regime was unhappy with Al Jazeera, believing that the network was biased toward the previous Muslim Brotherhood government. But there was no evidence that the three defendants’ work had been anything other than balanced reporting.

And this should concern you greatly. 

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Tamara Baluja is an award-winning journalist with CBC Vancouver and the 2018 Michener-Deacon fellow for journalism education. She was the associate editor for J-Source from 2013-2014.