As regular readers will know by now, I don’t read any of the Mail papers, or allow them in the house, but the online revolution being what it is, every now and then some of its bile slips through the net as people send me links and say ‘hey, you ought to see this.’
One such was the intriguing observation by the Mail that Andy Coulson having left Downing Street, that should be the end of the matter and the world should move on. As the person who sent this to me said, this must be the first time in history that The Mail is interested in putting an end to other people’s misery, as opposed to exploiting it.
As I said yesterday, I found it odd that Andy Coulson felt the phone-hacking story had become so big that he was unable to do his job properly. Given the issues involved, it has not been that big at all, nothing like some of the raging torrents of media frenzy I had to deal with. That is because so many of the other papers have not really bothered pursuing it, wheras when I was doing his job, there were times it seemed the Number 10 media operation was all they were really interested in.
With the phone-hacking story, it has been possible to feel their itching to will it away. I wonder why. Could it be, as one or two of the papers finally seem to be suggesting, that far from this being a story of one rogue reporter at one Sunday newspaper, it is a story of a newspaper industry out of control, and losing sight of the importance of the law.
The Guardian has been virtually alone in really pushing on this one, and I hope they keep pushing. Far from being the end of the story, Coulson’s departure from Number 10 is just one rather dramatic chapter. But the real issues go far wider and deeper than one job in Downing Street. They are about the conduct of newspapers, the conduct of the police, and the implications for the News Corp attempted buy-out of BSkyB.
So with such serious issues at the heart of this, and so many celebs and public figures now involved, the Mail‘s line on it was very odd indeed.
The newspapers today remind me a little of the trade unions back in the 70s. They thought they could do anything, and they thought they would be able to carry on in the same way for as long as they wanted. The unions would claim support of their members. The papers claim support of their readers, and always claim to be acting in the public interest, which in their minds has become anything which interests the public, as opposed to anything genuinely in the public interest.
When an SNP politician made claims about so-called ‘cash for honours’, ‘Yates of the Yard’ and his team moved heaven and earth to investigate. The contrast with their lacklustre and frankly suspicious behaviour in relation to the investigation – or rather non-investigation – of the phone-hacking scandal could not be clearer.
But just as few people ever believed only one reporter and one private detective were up to no good at the News of the World, so few people believe this is a practise confined to one newspaper. It is clear that Scotland Yard has lost any credibility in its pursuit of all this. But somebody in authority – police complaints, another police force, a select committee perhaps – has to get into this issue now in real depth and detail and in a way that goes right across all the papers. Perhaps David Cameron could set up a Royal Commission into the workings of the modern media. (I know, I know, flying pigs are more likely but I just throw it out there)
Mail editor Paul Dacre was recently in charge of a review of the publication of government papers, one of the more ludicrous appointments Gordon Brown ever made. Dacre was calling for greater openness. Let us now have that sense of openness about the way the media operates. Let their practices be subject to the same level of scrutiny as other people and organisations in public life. Then I think we may see why it is that they want this story to go away.