The scandal continues to enliven a dull July. The politicians are embarrassed because they have associated most closely with newspapers and their journalists, some of whom have hacked into people’s telephones, including those of politicians. The papers are embarrassed because hacking is a criminal offence which they conveniently ignored in their efforts to expose wrong doing and bring us our daily or weekly does of salacious gossip, in order to sell more newspapers. The policemen are embarrassed because they have been supposed to investigate crime and for many years failed to investigate this type of crime properly, because some of the police were very close to the newspapers, not only in unhealthy close contact but also apparently in some cases in receipt of largesse from the newspapers.
The largesse may have simply been old fashioned cash stuffed into envelops, or it may have been the more traditionally British form of corruption when one favour is repaid by someone else – usually the public purse – with a nice job or another favour. The consequences so far are enormous. The largest selling paper in the United Kingdom has closed down. Former editors have had their collars felt by the police. Charges are likely to follow. The most important policeman in the United Kingdom has resigned, and the politicians are displaying their usual bluster when they learn that what they always knew has been discovered.
The heart of this scandal is not journalism or police corruption or even the fear that the politicians displayed towards the tabloid press in the United Kingdom. The heart of this scandal is the pursuit of money. Money was pursued by the press and they resorted to underhand and illegal means to make money.
I have nothing but admiration for a person who knowingly breaks the law and is willing to suffer the consequences in order to expose vice, corruption or folly. I have nothing but contempt for journalists who break the law for financial gain and then try to cover up their wrong doing by their actions or by the fear that their newspapers generate in the minds of the politicians and police.
It is important that we do not lose sight of the motive for the law breaking in all this scandal.
In 1984 Mr Clive Ponting sent two documents about the sinking of the General Belgrano in the Falklands War to Tam Dayell MP. This act was contrary to a law, the Official Secrets Act and Mr Ponting was tried with a criminal offence. Mr Ponting admitted his actions but argued that the disclosure he made was in the public interest. That was his motive. Legally that was no defence. Nevertheless Mr Ponting was acquitted by a jury. Without regard to the law to the Judge’s direction the jury decided that Mr Ponting was not guilty of any crime.
In that case Mr Ponting was prepared to suffer the consequences of his actions and his actions were not motivated by a desire to acquire money. The good sense of juries often prevails in cases of this kind. For journalists to argue that their freedom to report the news cannot be inhibited by laws is specious. The laws have always inhibited some reporting of the news. If journalists are brave, they report wrong doing. If editors are brave they publish wrong doing.
If politicians are brave they do not lick the boots of the great newspaper proprietors, or consult with them. They do what is right for the country and face whatever criticism the press may throw at them. The press are very happy to kick a politician whenever they can in order to sell more papers. Licking boots provides no immunity from criticism. It is easy to kick the lickspittle in the mouth because the mouth is so conveniently placed.