Gary's News and views

Gary Streeter MP for South West Devon

Gary writes a weekly article which appears in the Plympton Plymstock and Ivybridge News in South West Devon. The articles are published here.


Thursday, 14 July 2011

Give them enough rope and they will hang themselves, the old maxim goes. It happened two years ago with MP's expenses when a lax system, once exposed, threw up some corrupt practices (thankfully) now resolved. It is happening again with the conduct of the press. Who out there believes anything other than that the enquiries will reveal that phone tapping and paying the police for stories was widespread, not just in News International,  and that this was well known at the highest levels within that industry.
We in Westminster have allowed the national press to bully us all in this country for far too long for fear of reprisals. We gave them too much rope. This was widely recognised by the general public. I have lost count of the conversations I have had with constituents over the years asking why we don't crack down on the "out of control press". Well now we will.
The Press Complaints Commission has long been the only real way that members of the public can complain about unfair treatment by the press. It is a system of self-regulation, funded by the press, operating under rules made by the press and the majority of its board are Fleet Street editors. It looked into the phone hacking scandal a few years ago and decided it was just one isolated individual. It treats complaints by the general public whose lives have been unfairly traduced casually. Sometimes a huge front page splash would be corrected, six months later, by a tiny paragraph on page 27. Not good enough. Whatever else comes out of this sorry saga, it is certain that this huge powerful industry will no longer be able to regulate itself.
It is important that we do not overreact. A free press is vital. Although often deeply inconvenient a press that digs deep and exposes scandal is a healthy part of a modern democracy. But it has to be accountable and that is the missing ingredient we now have to put in place. It will have to be done through robust external regulation.
Why do we always hang ourselves when given enough rope? The short answer is: human nature. We seem to be incapable of keeping ourselves on the straight and narrow. That's why we need laws. That's why we need external regulation. In the end we will get a more balanced press out of all this...until the next time.
What do you think?

posted by Gary @ 08:59