Leading article: Condemnation is too wide – not all newspapers are like this

Britain has a long tradition of highly competitive, lively and responsible Press

Share
Related Topics

The claims that precipitated yesterday's emergency debate made it inevitable that passions in the Commons would run high. The allegation that 13-year-old Milly Dowler's mobile phone had been hacked for the News of the World in the days after she went missing was as distressing as it was repellent. With others added to the list of mooted victims almost by the hour – the families of the murdered Soham girls, the parents of Sarah Payne, victims of the London bombings six years ago today – the scale and degeneracy of the practice was assuming quite different proportions.

Until then, the phone-hacking affair had penetrated the public consciousness largely as a well-paid risk for the rich and famous. Now, it had become a heinous violation of privacy to which anyone might fall victim, at a time when they were at their lowest and most vulnerable. All of which explained why shock, outrage and disgust were on full display yesterday, with MPs' fury only slightly assuaged by the prime minister's promise of at least one, and possibly two, inquiries. David Cameron's insistence that police investigations should be concluded first, prompted cries of derision – not unreasonably, given the stuttering and half-hearted nature of police activity in this area hitherto.

But there was also a highly distasteful and even dangerous undercurrent to MPs' indignation: the inference that the whole of journalism, and the press in particular, was defined by such reprehensible practices. That slur – and it is a slur – needs to be scotched before it becomes a new verity, drawing to itself all manner of calls for tougher regulation and restrictions. There was more than a sense, too, that some MPs were seeking vengeance for the exposure of the expenses scandal.

It is probably not reasonable to believe that phone hacking and other unethical and illegal practices were restricted either to the News of the World or to the News Corp stable. The chairman of the Commons culture, media and sport select committee, John Whittingdale, spread the net somewhat wider in yesterday's debate. But he also allowed that, just as the expenses scandal had tainted all MPs, even though many had not abused the system, so many journalists were appalled about the activities of some members of their profession.

We were, and we are. But it is also crucial to defend the honour of this and other newspapers, especially at a time when the press as a whole is coming under acute financial pressure. Most journalists and most newspapers well know the difference between ethical and unethical, legal and illegal, right and wrong. Most stay on the right side of the line.

Britain has a long tradition of highly competitive, lively and responsible newspapers. It is a tradition which attracts envy from many parts of the world and has fostered a press culture with an admirable reputation for speaking truth to power. At its best, British investigative reporting is second to none, with a clear sense of the public interest, quite properly, to the fore. Let's not forget that it was not only the MPs' expenses scandal that newspapers exposed, but the phone hacking whose ramifications are being minutely chronicled in some newspapers, including this one, even as others did their utmost to keep it under wraps.

Freedom and responsibility in the British media turn bad only when cut-throat ambition spawns illegality and when journalists or proprietors neglect their responsibility to keep a distance from power. What the phone-hacking scandal has shown, as it has evolved, is that – for all the scum that sticks to some journalism – Britain still has a free, independent and ethical press, and it remains as essential to the nation's wellbeing as ever.

React Now

Latest stories from i100
SPONSORED FEATURES
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Trainee Health & Safety Consultant

£16000 - £20000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A fantastic and exciting opport...

Recruitment Genius: Project and Quality Manager

£28000 - £32000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This company is an independent ...

Recruitment Genius: Trainee Sales Executive - OTE £20,625

£14625 - £20625 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This role is for an enthusiasti...

Guru Careers: Financial Controller

£45 - £55k DOE: Guru Careers: A Financial Controller is required to join a suc...

Day In a Page

Read Next
Nicky Clarke has criticised the Duchess of Cambridge for having grey hair  

Letting one’s hair turn grey would be the most subversive Royal act

Rosie Millard
 

London’s foreign money bubble is bursting – but will we be better off?

Chris Blackhurst
Mullah Omar, creator of the Taliban, is dead... for the fourth time

Mullah Omar, creator of the Taliban, is dead... for the fourth time

I was once told that intelligence services declare their enemies dead to provoke them into popping up their heads and revealing their location, says Robert Fisk
Margaret Attwood on climate change: 'Time is running out for our fragile, Goldilocks planet'

Margaret Attwood on climate change

The author looks back on what she wrote about oil in 2009, and reflects on how the conversation has changed in a mere six years
New Dr Seuss manuscript discovered: What Pet Should I Get? goes on sale this week

New Dr Seuss manuscript discovered

What Pet Should I Get? goes on sale this week
Oculus Rift and the lonely cartoon hedgehog who could become the first ever virtual reality movie star

The cartoon hedgehog leading the way into a whole new reality

Virtual reality is the 'next chapter' of entertainment. Tim Walker gives it a try
Ants have unique ability to switch between individual and collective action, says study

Secrets of ants' teamwork revealed

The insects have an almost unique ability to switch between individual and collective action
Donovan interview: The singer is releasing a greatest hits album to mark his 50th year in folk

Donovan marks his 50th year in folk

The singer tells Nick Duerden about receiving death threats, why the world is 'mentally ill', and how he can write a song about anything, from ecology to crumpets
Twitter accused of 'Facebookisation' over plans to overhaul reverse-chronological timeline

Twitter accused of 'Facebookisation'

Facebook exasperates its users by deciding which posts they can and can’t see. So why has Twitter announced plans to do the same?
Jane Birkin asks Hermès to rename bag - but what else could the fashion house call it?

Jane Birkin asks Hermès to rename bag

The star was shocked by a Peta investigation into the exotic skins trade
10 best waterproof mascaras

Whatever the weather: 10 best waterproof mascaras

We found lash-enhancing beauties that won’t budge no matter what you throw at them
Diego Costa biography: Chelsea striker's route to the top - from those who shared his journey

Diego Costa: I go to war. You come with me...

Chelsea's rampaging striker had to fight his way from a poor city in Brazil to life at the top of the Premier League. A new book speaks to those who shared his journey
Turkey's conflict with Kurdish guerrillas in Iraq can benefit Isis in Syria

Turkey's conflict with Kurdish guerrillas in Iraq can benefit Isis in Syria

Turkish President Erdogan could benefit politically from the targeting of the PKK, says Patrick Cockburn
Yvette Cooper: Our choice is years of Tory rule under Jeremy Corbyn or a return to a Labour government

Our choice is years of Tory rule under Corbyn or a return to a Labour government

Yvette Cooper urged Labour members to 'get serious' about the next general election rather than become 'a protest movement'
Singapore's domestic workers routinely exploited and often abused in the service of rich nationals

Singapore's hidden secret of domestic worker abuse

David Cameron was shown the country's shiniest veneer on his tour. What he didn't see was the army of foreign women who are routinely exploited and often abused in the service of rich nationals
Showdown by Shirley Jackson: A previously unpublished short story from the queen of American Gothic

Showdown, by Shirley Jackson

A previously unpublished short story from the queen of American Gothic
10 best DSLRs

Be sharp! 10 best DSLRs

Up your photography game with a versatile, powerful machine