Leading Article: The high price of cheap sensation

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WHAT WOULD you feel if, as a famous ice-skater, you had confessed in court to hindering a criminal investigation into an assault on your greatest rival? Remorse, self-hatred, the need to get to a nunnery or a remote capital in South America? Tonya Harding may indeed have felt some of these emotions last week, but her first question seems to have been: how could she make money out of this? Bienvenida (Lady) Buck committed adultery with the Chief of Defence Staff and asked the same question. So, earlier this year, did the undertaker's man who saw Sir Matt Busby in his coffin. So, last year, did the manager of a gym used by the Princess of Wales. So, last week, did persons unknown who knew about the movements of Myra Hindley, the Moors murderer, and about police photography inside Gloucester jail.

The question has one answer: sell yourself or your information to the media. In the list above only one dealer in information has been rebuffed: pictures of the dead Sir Matt were refused by the Sun, which then 'exposed' the man who had offered them (he had crossed a barrier of taste, but who could blame him for not knowing where that lay these days?). Last week the same newspaper published pictures of Myra Hindley on her way to receive hospital treatment ('I shiver as evil eyes meet mine,' writes Sun reporter), followed by a photograph of Frederick West, charged with nine murders, taken by police inside jail after his arrest. This suggests that public servants can no longer be trusted. This Government goes to great lengths to prevent and to punish 'whistle-blowing', when a public servant tries to alert the media to bad practice inside Britain's increasingly unaccountable institutions. But it is powerless to stop an illegal trade in cheap sensation. In a society where everything has a price, information is no exception. Public duty, civic morality - these do not have a market.