Cleaning up the system

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.

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About Lord Norton

Professor of Government at Hull University, and Member of the House of Lords
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4 Responses to Cleaning up the system

  1. Dave H says:

    “What is required is a far more robust regulatory regime – and a transparent one – to ensure that the existing law is enforced.”

    Much new law could be avoided if only this was done more often. The powers are usually there, just not used in an appropriate manner.

  2. Frank W. Summers III says:

    Lord Norton,
    The only ancient civilization that I know of that had a fairly analogous institution to the Press was (not so very ancient Imperial China) where a system of messngers and walls plastered with papers voicing new and opinions from varied sources goes back much further in time than I have found elsewhere and given the large number of sizable cities with such reading walls and communications in the area it is a kind of mass media that predates Gutenberg. In the West and the pulpit goes back to the God-fearers and Hellenized Jews across the hellenic world and continues along with the Minaret and bell-tower as powerfull engines of communication and information. Nonetheless, the media is a mere infant compared to the crown, the army, the legislature, marriage, the market, the freight company, the farm and many other engines of society. I think that perspective is often lost.

    I have been on television a dozen or so times, radio a great deal more and been published and interviewed in print in the thousands of times all together. I have the idea that really there has been a continuous fluidity in a short time within an institution that pervades and influences so many other institutions. This cannot be a purely political or purely British problem. Newscorp is certainly not restricted to the UK nor is Mr. Murdoch nor the other Mr. Murdoch. The decline of the Newspaper as an institution is quite worrying to me. However, I think that the varied models of newspapers have always been somewhat at odds. In the New York Times and The Financial Times of London one sees a certain attachement to ideals of integrity simply not defined that way or shared in many others. The only position I ever held with a large corporation’s daily paper was with the USA’s Gannet corporation and the Daily Advertiser in Lafayette. I worked freelance,on staff with a chain of community papers and in varied other formats. There are other evils than this including the complacency of not having real investigative reporting and leading people to believe there is such going on.The Guardian has broken this story and must know the score as to the troubles of the press as a whole. It is simply a fact that it is a young institution that can and must evolve to survive. However, it quite possibly will not. Quite possibly we will lose a meaningful free press in the world and nothing nearly as good will develop for a long time….

  3. ladytizzy says:

    I feel ‘crisis’ is a bit strong, unless we have a way to go in early retirements. Rather, as with bankers and MPs, it has been another fascinating insight into what practices have become acceptable by those in the frame. For example, Sir Paul Stephenson was “not apologetic at all” for the free, and lengthy, stay at a hideously expensive health farm yet the bobby on the street is not allowed to accept a free cup of tea while on duty. The Police Treatment Centre charity exists, I assume, for the treatment of police, alongside other convalescent facilities reserved for police officers.

    More importantly, will the cessation of legal fees by News International to Mr Mulcaire demonstrate that money continues to buy justice?

    As you say, Lord Norton, the relationships have been portrayed as the problem yet politicians, police, and the press have each said that such relationships must continue to exist so why, exactly, are we bothering with expensive inquiries when the outcomes have been decided?

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