MURDOCH, THE MEDIA, POLICE AND POLITICS
Change needed but we must be careful
We need more transparency not less
It’s been a strangely compelling week in politics. The Murdoch media empire has in the eyes of many politicians been brought to account for years of unethical behaviour, real and imagined. This is pay-back time for politicians of every hue many of whose reputations have been so sullied over the last couple of years, in the eye of the expenses storm. Many have had to genuflect to Murdoch over the years to ensure that his newspapers endorsed them, with varying degrees of success. The hurt was best articulated by the former Prime Minster, Gordon Brown, who blamed Murdoch for all manner of ills, including his own personal indecision. Quite why he thought he couldn’t override advice given to him by the Cabinet Secretary is anyone’s guess and merely confirms how unsuited he was for Prime Ministerial office. The fact that he and his wife spent much time ingratiating themselves to Murdoch and his lieutenants tends to undermine his belated efforts to take a high moral stance. Other parliamentarians share his exposed position. Murdoch will now have to account to Parliament for News International’s conduct. We already have self-important parliamentarians with all the moral fervour they can muster sitting in judgment on a media mogul and others involved in this affair although public trust in them as inquisitors and arbiters on ethical issues has been much diminished over the last two or three years.
But it’s not just the media and politicians who are in the frame. The Metropolitan police appear to either have been asleep on the job or actively colluding with News International. A bit of both probably. It is deeply worrying that so many individuals at the top of their professions whether it’s in the media, politics or the police are so lacking in judgment, common sense or common decency. The only way this will improve is through better governance and more transparency. Power must be held to account. We are not yet an open society and the Freedom of Information Act is failing to deliver in many respects, and lack of transparency is the enemy of good governance in every walk of life. Ironically, one reason some in the media resort to illegal methods to get even fairly basic information is that far too much information is inaccessible to the public and unnecessarily so.That is not, though, to excuse the illegal conduct of some journalists .But we must shine a brighter light on those in authority who often seem to outsiders, ie the majority of the public, to operate a network that looks like a cosy cartel.
We must be very careful not to limit the ability of the press to search out information which those in power would prefer us not to see . Of course, the media shouldn’t tap phones and pay police officers for information . Its morally wrong and against the law, and they must be subject to the law. But we also need a more open society and that should now be top of the political agenda.
As for regulating the media ,statutory control is the least attractive option.The Press Complaints Commission has done little to inspire confidence -so we need a tougher body with financial independence from the industry ,with real teeth and robust sanctions to enforce a tougher code of conduct . But we must also protect our free press. and not throw the baby out with the bathwater.