Journalism’s dark art of Zoombombing

Mark Di Stefano listening into private Zoom calls at the Evening Standard and the Independent is hardly a new phone hacking scandal. The now former media reporter for the Financial Times accessed calls about staff pay cuts and furloughs – not great, but not hacking a murdered schoolgirl’s phone either.

What lost Di Stefano his job, however, is less what he published and more how he got the information. The FT editors were happy to publish the piece when the information was attributed to “people on the call”, but reversed their position once they found out those “people” were their own reporter.

Yet what is more striking than a man losing his job is the sympathy that Di Stefano received on Twitter from figures as diverse as the BBC’s Emily Maitlis, the anti-Murdoch Peter Jukes, the Guardian’s Owen Jones, former BuzzFeed colleague Alex Wickham, and various Novara media figures. Is the offence deemed too trivial?

For Wickham, it seems so. On Twitter he said that Di Stefano “is a superb reporter and one of the best, most decent people I know. This is an absolutely ridiculous and appalling outcome. A good and experienced editor stands by their reporter.”

Wickham is of course formerly of Guido Fawkes, so perhaps Di Stefano is among his more ethical acquaintances. But editors are not obliged to stand by reporters that behave unethically, and what Di Stefano did was digital breaking and entering, even if the Zoom calls in question were not password protected. He had no right to be on those calls, just as he has no right to enter the newspapers’ offices and rifle through their filing cabinets.

Had he gleaned some genuinely important information his methods might have been excused, but the salaries of a few hacks are not that interesting to people outside the industry. As a lawyer pointed out in the Guardian, he’d struggle to mount a public interest defence if taken to court over it.

Others perhaps acknowledge that Di Stefano did wrong, but dislike the outcome. Jukes told me Di Stefano “was no friend, personally or politically, and he deserved punishment. […] But still sad to see a career end this way.” I suspect Di Stefano will be employed as a journalist again, but it seems justified for him to lose his job and be out of the game for a while. Indeed, the only better outcome would have been for him to have not accessed those calls in the first place.

Jimmy Nicholls
Jimmy Nicholls
Writes somewhat about British politics and associated matters. Contact jimmy@rightdishonourable.com

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