The hacking of mobile phones by News of the World journalists is an outrage. Right. More heads should roll to clean up the tabloid media in this country. Right. The scandal demonstrates that journalism has sunk to a new low. Does it? Parliament should legislate to control what the press can and can’t do. I think not.
Let’s not forget that it is only the doggedly determined work by journalists at The Guardian which has uncovered this affair. Without them you and I would never know what has been going on. The police, politicians and all the others have been turning a blind eye to this because it suited them to do so. The lack of judgement goes far deeper than reporters using dodgy practices to get hold of information.
And we should think long and hard before accepting politicians’ calls for statutory controls on the press. Let’s remember an even bigger scandal: the MPs’ expenses claims. It is often ignored that this particular can of worms was only opened by the Daily Telegraph when it paid for a CD of stolen details of expense claims from hundreds of MPs. Politicians of all hues had repeatedly voted to suppress the public’s right to know what they were claiming before their hypocrisy was finally exposed. We may have seen a handful of MPs jailed for false claims, but there are many more who escaped prosecution because, despite clearly fleecing the taxpayers, they claimed it was ‘within the rules’.
How they would love to prevent reporters shining a light into their lives in the future. You may have noticed one of those leading the siren calls to limit the freedoms of the press – John Prescott – has his own reasons to resent press ‘intrusion’.
And Keith Vaz, the man leading the current parliamentary inquiry into the Metropolitan Police’s relationship with News International is not immune to scandal himself, and has had reason to rue press interest in his activities on more than one occasion.
The final word on this should go to a former Tory minister, Jonathan Aitken, who once vowed “to use the simple sword of truth to cut out the cancer of twisted journalism in this country.” He ended up behind bars when the newspaper proved that he had lied and lied and lied. Counterpoint by Scott Freeman