Here, as his start of the 2020s message to people wanting to break into journalism, he tells them they must expect abuse and possess knowledge of legal rules.
Two key factors must be borne in mind for anyone keen to become an investigative journalist – 1. expect abuse. 2. Get yourself a good lawyer.
Over more than 30 years I have been asked innumerable times how to start a career in journalism, and this is what i always reply.
I have tried extremely hard to toughen up believe me, but I have found it very difficult not to be wounded by the abuse, and social media seems to have made the attacks worse. The insults now from supporters of all parties appear to have increased following the General Election campaign as we have endeavoured to report facts.
Among many things, I have been called a “lying bastard”, “vermin”, a “git”, a “jerk”, a “tosser”, a “troll”, a “bully”, “scum”, someone who is AGAINST a questionable development, someone who is FOR a questionable development, someone who is WITH the police during an investigation, someone who is in OPPOSITION to the police during an investigation.
Another critic posted below a picture of me: “The face of a real life bully”.
It has been said abusively that I was being fed INCORRECT material, that I was being fed CORRECT material, and that I was not being fair to someone with a mental illness even though that person has duped many people out of thousands of pounds.
As a longstanding journalist friend said to me recently: “It’s not ME saying it!”, but it seems that people mix up the facts in a story with your own personal views. I have never published details of whether I am FOR or AGAINST Jeremy Corbyn, or Labour, but as soon as you report the latest crisis over anti-Semitism or a polling result, you get a torrent of abuse. Just because I have published anti-Jeremy Corbyn material does NOT make me pro-Boris Johnson! A story is a story, is a story.
Apart from calling me a “lying bastard”, and “vermin”, a supporter of a 1960s paramilitary organisation published on his right wing blog details about founding a new Welsh independence party with the words: “The meeting yesterday went very, very well. I was delighted with the turnout and with the enthusiasm shown…perhaps the one disappointment – given the interest he’s shown in the new party – was that Phil Parry of The Eye wasn’t there. You could have had a scoop, Parry – ‘Shock! Horror! irritating little git thrown out of meeting”.
He also wrote after an article on The Eye: “Following Phil Parry’s latest attack on me I asked for the right to reply (The Eye – there has been no such request), but he hasn’t responded. I’d prefer to ignore the irritating little git but he is now making serious and misleading allegations that have to be answered”. And: “He (another critic of the plan) used the lies peddled by Phil Parry on The Eye”.
A crook we exposed targeted me, my family and friends online with a barrage of insults.
In one tirade he wrote: “You write total lies aboutpeople (The Eye – we only report facts), bully to the point of harassment and suicide, and will not answer a direct email?This is not journalism this is a mixture of Phil Parry (The ex journalist) and (others) you are pure scum!!!!! Let it be publicly known that The Eye does NOT care about people it just lies to make fictitious stories up. BULLYING, LIES, MENTAL HEALTH ABUSE TO NAME BUT A FEW!!!!!”.
In another he said: “I am have contacted you (sic) numerous times before asking why you consistently, stalk, bully and harassme? … You so far have asked the following for comments: Thief Abuser(The Eye have never said this man is an abuser). Liar Sex Offender (The Eye have never said this man is a sex offender). Drug user (The Eye have never said this man is a drug user, just that he has dealt in illegal drugs).
But as well as being prepared for this level of abuse, every young person setting out on a career in journalism must have a working knowledge of what can and cannot be said, and it is a pity those who use the internet do not know the rules because exactly the same laws apply.
Broadly speaking, being unplesant does not defame someone, but undermining the reputation of that person, or the ability to earn a living, may do. This is the bedrock of journalism, and luckily knowing this has earned me many awards. You can say the First Minister of Wales, Mark Drakeford, is a bastard (although he is not) because that could be defended as Fair Comment (or Honest Comment as it is now known), but you cannot say he is a cheating bastard unless you have very strong evidence (but there is none, because he is NOT a cheat – let me make that perfectly clear!).
Over the years I have been involved in countless legal cases – covering them, defending them and prosecuting them. The regular Tuesday evening BBC Wales Television current affairs series I presented for 10 years from 1989, Week In, Week Out, has been axed after 53 years, and replaced by ‘BBC Wales Investigates’ for ‘big’ stories, but on Mondays we would invariably be joined by a corporation lawyer to check every word of the programme script, as well as every frame of the film. People who had no idea of the law would complain about things that were NEVER in the programme!
After libel cases I have won large amounts of money, and lost large amounts of money for my then-employer when the court has not accepted my lawyer’s defence.
A piece on Facebook or Twitter is governed by the same laws of libel as if it were an item on BBC Wales Today or a page lead in the Western Mail. People do not seem to be aware of this though, and say the most appalling things on social media, and some of it is libellous.
A widespread dissemination comes into it too.
I have been called, wrongly, “biased” as well as “misogynistic” on Twitter. The full text of the ‘biased’ tweet came after a story about a woman Welsh Assembly Member (AM) and was: “Severed links with @WalesEye (our Twitter name) years ago. Unfunny, biased, personal, superficial, mysoginistic (sic), out of touch &bitter. That’s WalesEye, not me”.
Now, you can probably get away with most of this stuff although it is disagreeable (‘unfunny’ for example can be defended as Honest Comment) but ‘biased’ and ‘misogynistic’ (even if misspelt) are quite different. Possessing the knowledge of what separates these things is crucial.
To call a journalist ‘biased’ (let alone a ‘misogynist’) is probably the worst thing you can say, because it undermines that person’s ability to earn a living. If you are seen as not being neutral, then people will refuse to come to you with the other side of the story. Also, this was by someone who has a fairly large following on Twitter.
As to the ‘bastard’ comment – that is probably acceptable (I hold my hands up to being a bastard on the doorstep sometimes!) but a ‘liar’ is something you should never say about a journalist unless, again, you have very strong evidence. On the other hand, this blog was seen by virtually no one, and the dissemination would not have been widespread – so I did nothing about it.
The ‘biased’ insult on Twitter, however, was another matter entirely. I went straight to my libel lawyer who consulted a specialist barrister. We threatened to sue and a full apology as well as retraction were duly published.
But knowing about these rules seems to be a scarce commodity, and over the years we have endured numerous threats of legal action from people who do not understand what they are saying. None of these threats have come to anything.
The sorts of stories we pursue on The Eye are trickier than just writing lists about food (as the Editor of one Welsh website advised somebody keen to break into journalism), but although the law alters, the basics do not.
In 1921 a bizarre court case took place after a strange incident in Littlehampton. A woman called Edith Swan had been sending poison pen letters to neighbours she hated. Here is an extract of one of them: “You bloody fucking piss country whores go and fuck your cunt. It’s your drain that stinks not your fish box. Yo fucking dirty sods. You are as bad as your whore neybor.”
But the jury in the libel trial of Swan refused to convict her because she had an education (unbelievably) after a judge’s direction, and another jury later wrongly convicted an ill-educated woman called Rose Gooding, who was sentenced to 12 months in prison with hard labour. She was fully exonerated afterwards.
Knowledge of this kind of legal history is not needed, but knowledge of what it led to, and the law now, IS.
It is that which is important for anyone who wants to become a journalist, as well as being ready for being called a “lying bastard” of course!
Tomorrow – why politicians need to adjust to a world of new technology.
Phil’s memories of his astonishing lengthy award-winning career in journalism as he was gripped by the incurable disabling condition Hereditary Spastic Paraplegia (HSP), have been released in a major new book ‘A GOOD STORY’. Order the book now! The picture doubles as a cut-and-paste poster!