Belfast Telegraph

Thursday 18 September 2014

Editor's Viewpoint: Curbing our press is not the solution

As further revelations in the News of the World phone hacking scandal emerged yesterday, there was more than a whiff of revenge in the air in the House of Commons as MPs vented their fury on the press.

There is no doubt that most politicians - and their nearest allies - would love to curtail the activities of the media and not just the tabloid press.

What has happened at the News of the World is unforgivable and unacceptable, but the public should remember that other scandals, such as MP expense abuses, were uncovered by good old fashioned and ethical journalism.

Quite rightly there is a police investigation into the phone hacking allegations and the Prime Minister, David Cameron, was also correct to order a public inquiry into the matter. Of course he was practically goaded into taking action by the Opposition, no doubt to the glee of politicians of all parties. But what was absent from yesterday's exchanges in the Commons was any sense of rational debate on the way forward.

It is easy to rant and rave about unacceptable practices and infer that the press must be curbed. But what is really needed is a mature debate on press regulation. That is not to curb its freedom of expression, but to ensure that it pursues journalistic endeavours in an ethical manner.

And that is what the vast majority of the media does. The mass circulation tabloids may stretch codes of conduct to the limit in the pursuit of the next sensational headline, but those who use that as an excuse to attack the press in general usually have a hidden agenda. The News of the World has handed them the perfect opportunity to preach their anti-media message.

But the press is not the only casualty in this scandal. David Cameron has also been damaged. He is a friend of Rebekah Brooks, who was editor at the News of the World when the phone hacking took place, and he previously employed another executive from that newspaper, Andy Coulson, as his director of communications until he was forced to resign over other phone tapping claims. Sometimes your friends can be your worst enemies.

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