Leading article: News of the World - gone, but not forgotten

Share
Related Topics

We do not celebrate the passing of the News of the World. At its best, it was one of the finest newspapers in Britain, with an astonishing record of scoops and entertainment.
The Independent on Sunday would wish we enjoyed anything like its sales success. And no one, least of all the staff of another Sunday newspaper, should take pleasure in the sacking of fellow journalists, few of whom were responsible for the excesses that brought the title down.

What is worse is that the closure of the NOTW was unnecessary. If Rebekah Brooks had resigned, the toxicity of the title could have been purged and advertisers might have been won back.

That there needed to be some kind of reckoning, however, is beyond doubt. Elements of the press, and not just at News International, have been out of control. The worst of the phone hacking has (presumably) been reined back since Clive Goodman and Glenn Mulcaire were jailed in 2007. But it took the revelation that, in 2002, the mobile phone of Milly Dowler, the murdered 13-year-old, had been hacked and messages deleted to blow the scandal open.

It is almost universally agreed that phone-hacking of this kind, simply trawling for information about people in the news, or their families, is repugnant. It is bad enough when hacking is used as a short cut to easy stories about the private lives of celebrities, but in the Dowler case, the hacker gave false hope to Milly's family and could have jeopardised a police murder investigation. What Ms Brooks meant when she said that there was worse yet to come out we can only shudder to imagine.

The opening up of this hidden underside of popular journalism, and the inquiries into the failure of the original police investigation and, separately, into the ethics of the press, are welcome. Daylight has now been let in on the press, its relations with the police and with politicians. On Friday, the Prime Minister was bold enough to admit, subverting one of his own slogans, that "we have all been in this together – the press, politicians and leaders of all parties". All politicians have held back, for fear of offending media organisations that might support them in elections or shed unwelcome light on their private lives.

This crisis provides an unusual opportunity to deal with the problem. It could be the time to clean up the corrupt relationship between the police and elements of the press. And it could be the chance to replace the Press Complaints Commission, which has never commanded much confidence, with a system of accountability that is independent of both the Government and the newspapers themselves.

Curiously, however, we find ourselves worrying whether the reaction to the hacking scandal might go too far. Some of the influence of Rupert Murdoch on the British media has been baleful, partly because of craven politicians. But the liberal left often refuses to accept that for all his will to dominate he has also added to the pluralism of British journalism. We might not wish otherwise, but without the revolution of print technology and challenge to trade union restrictions instigated by Murdoch and Eddie Shah, this newspaper would probably not exist. Hostility to the Murdochs certainly means that the illegal methods used by other newspapers have attracted much less attention than they deserve.

There is a danger, too, that an overreaction would curb justifiable investigation. The Daily Telegraph, for example, secured the MPs' expenses story by paying for a stolen disc. In that case, what would otherwise be unlawful was in the public interest. Hacking voicemails could be justified if there were good reason to believe that it would expose greater wrongdoing. One of the simplest tests is whether a newspaper is prepared to tell its readers how information was obtained.

Finally, there is a risk that the festival of revulsion pushes politicians towards a privacy law, a law of prior restraint and statutory regulation. Those would, in our view, negate the principle of free expression and must be resisted.

As we bid farewell to the most successful Sunday newspaper in the world, we should celebrate its iconoclastic spirit. While hardly in the same market, we hope that at least some readers of the NOTW will look again at the alternatives.

React Now

Latest stories from i100
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Senior .Net Programmer

£25000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This Bridgend based software de...

Recruitment Genius: Digital Printer

£21000 - £22000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A specialist retail and brand c...

Recruitment Genius: Digital Designer

£25000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This digital production agency ...

Recruitment Genius: Class 2 HGV Driver - with CPC

£26000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Haulage company based on the Thorpe Indu...

Day In a Page

Read Next
 

If I were Prime Mininster: I would legislate for abortion on demand and abolish VAT on sanitary products

Caroline Criado-Perez
 

Election catch-up: Just what the election needs – another superficially popular but foolish policy

John Rentoul
Not even the 'putrid throat' could stop the Ross Poldark swoon-fest'

Not even the 'putrid throat' could stop the Ross Poldark swoon-fest'

How a costume drama became a Sunday night staple
Miliband promises no stamp duty for first-time buyers as he pushes Tories on housing

Miliband promises no stamp duty for first-time buyers

Labour leader pushes Tories on housing
Aviation history is littered with grand failures - from the the Bristol Brabazon to Concorde - but what went wrong with the SuperJumbo?

Aviation history is littered with grand failures

But what went wrong with the SuperJumbo?
Fear of Putin, Islamists and immigration is giving rise to a new generation of Soviet-style 'iron curtains' right across Europe

Fortress Europe?

Fear of Putin, Islamists and immigration is giving rise to a new generation of 'iron curtains'
Never mind what you're wearing, it's what you're reclining on

Never mind what you're wearing

It's what you're reclining on that matters
General Election 2015: Chuka Umunna on the benefits of immigration, humility – and his leader Ed Miliband

Chuka Umunna: A virus of racism runs through Ukip

The shadow business secretary on the benefits of immigration, humility – and his leader Ed Miliband
Yemen crisis: This exotic war will soon become Europe's problem

Yemen's exotic war will soon affect Europe

Terrorism and boatloads of desperate migrants will be the outcome of the Saudi air campaign, says Patrick Cockburn
Marginal Streets project aims to document voters in the run-up to the General Election

Marginal Streets project documents voters

Independent photographers Joseph Fox and Orlando Gili are uploading two portraits of constituents to their website for each day of the campaign
Game of Thrones: Visit the real-life kingdom of Westeros to see where violent history ends and telly tourism begins

The real-life kingdom of Westeros

Is there something a little uncomfortable about Game of Thrones shooting in Northern Ireland?
How to survive a social-media mauling, by the tough women of Twitter

How to survive a Twitter mauling

Mary Beard, Caroline Criado-Perez, Louise Mensch, Bunny La Roche and Courtney Barrasford reveal how to trounce the trolls
Gallipoli centenary: At dawn, the young remember the young who perished in one of the First World War's bloodiest battles

At dawn, the young remember the young

A century ago, soldiers of the Empire – many no more than boys – spilt on to Gallipoli’s beaches. On this 100th Anzac Day, there are personal, poetic tributes to their sacrifice
Dissent is slowly building against the billions spent on presidential campaigns – even among politicians themselves

Follow the money as never before

Dissent is slowly building against the billions spent on presidential campaigns – even among politicians themselves, reports Rupert Cornwell
Samuel West interview: The actor and director on austerity, unionisation, and not mentioning his famous parents

Samuel West interview

The actor and director on austerity, unionisation, and not mentioning his famous parents
General Election 2015: Imagine if the leading political parties were fashion labels

Imagine if the leading political parties were fashion labels

Fashion editor, Alexander Fury, on what the leaders' appearances tell us about them
Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka: Home can be the unsafest place for women

Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka: Home can be the unsafest place for women

The architect of the HeForShe movement and head of UN Women on the world's failure to combat domestic violence