If Joseph de Maistre were still alive he might observe of the News International scandal “Every country has the media it deserves.” There was only ever one way that this country’s fascination with gutter journalism could go and it went there – digging for sleaze and for profits from the lives of ordinary people; bereaved people; and anyone unable to protect themselves. I find it far from surprising that News International (and in particular the “News of the World”) stands accused of leading the way in this type of journalism. For decades the Murdoch media empire has satiated the British need for sleaze and sensationalism, delivering through its red-tops on a grand scale.
It is sad that our well-meaning but amateurish political class has shown so little foresight and opened itself up for criticism about being too cosy with Fleet Street; even sadder that some people within our police forces are being drawn into the maelstrom. A lot of people have already been hurt by this scandal, some innocent, some probably not so innocent and some just naive. But many more are likely to suffer before all the facts become known.
Today’s Select Committee hearings must be the start of a process that results in an environment in which freedom of the press is fiercely protected and gutter journalism unable to thrive. Better self-regulation will play its part in that and burnt fingers will make journalists and editors think again before using any-means-possible to get the scoop. Ultimately the paying public should be the regulators of the British media; if we do not like the way a newspaper is behaving, we should simply stop buying that paper. We should not wait for the big scandal – if something smells rotten, it probably is rotten. I have not bought a News International or News Corp title for more than two decades simply because, for me, something about their products never smells quite right.