Political commentators think something important happened yesterday when the slumbering press problems sprung to prominence. Chris Bryant, who moved the special debate on the phone hacking affair, deliberately brought several newspapers into the frame in addition to the News International stable. The TV and radio media stressed that they thought the whole question of the relationship between those in authority and the media is up for change. The Prime Minister and the Attorney General who spoke for the government in the debate talked of more than one enquiry, and seem to have in mind something very wide ranging.
We should expect the media to use this opportunity to get in some digs at their newspaper rivals. So far the spotlight has not fallen on the methods of tv and radio journalists. The newspapers themselves are locked in a brutal circulation war brought on by technology and the big increase in media outlets. Some of them will not be able to resist good copy if it emerges from this set of problems. The media loves talking about itself.
Politicians who realised that any complaints and action about media techniques of information gathering could look self serving if the issues were about celebrity privacy can now say the debate is about something much wider, with an impact on the victims of nasty crimes and tragedies. I suspect the significance of what happened yesterday is being overstated. It was interesting to hear how significant many politicians think a headline or story in a paper is. I have always thought the reality of what is happening and what is being done was more important, and the way it impacts on people’s lives. For every unhelpful story about someone or something you can usually find a helpful one somewhere else.
I would be interested in your views on what has gone wrong and what should be done about it. I will not be able to post anything that might prejudice a trial of named individuals or institutions, as we are told there are important investigations underway into possible criminal activity. One of the issues that does need discussing is the way the media reports the interviewing of witnesses and possible suspects whilst an important criminal investigation is underway. People who are not subsequently charged and are therefore innocent can have their name and reputation badly damaged if reports that they are suspects are clumsily handled.