I thought I would offer a few comments on the crisis presently engulfing the heart of our political system. The situation has arisen in large part through politicians having an exaggerated sense of the importance of the media and a failure not of law but of the process by which the law is enforced.
The insidious relationship between the press and politicians – not something that is new – derives from the political needs of politicians both in terms of personal advancement (wanting to be in the newspapers) and, more importantly, the desire to gain votes. Politicians have fallen for the line that the way to get voters to support you is to get the press barons on your side and consequently have sucked up to them. Contrary to what the Sun claimed, it is not newspapers that win elections. Papers tend to follow their readers rather than the other way round. Readers tend to engage in selective retention: they remember stories they agree with and mask out those they disagree with. Newspapers may help shape opinion when a new issue comes on to the agenda, but otherwise their influence is limited. If they run a story, they will only stick with it if it resonates with readers, otherwise it is dropped. Politicians have been too weak-willed – and possibly have run scared because of fears that the newspapers may be able to target them. It is a sad reflection on the quality of the media and, to some degree, politicians.
As for the relationship between the media and the police, and the means employed by some newspapers to gather information (and illicit garnering of personal data is not confined to the News International titles), there is not necessarily any need for a change in the law. What is required is a far more robust regulatory regime – and a transparent one – to ensure that the existing law is enforced.