What the phone hacking scandal means for local newspapers
A strong local press is a vital part of a strong local democracy
MY mailbag and inbox have been full of letters and emails about the phone hacking scandal. People are angry at revelations of widespread law-breaking in the press and alleged corruption by some police.
There has been the same sense of shock in Parliament, where this has been a huge topic of debate. I was there when the Prime Minister made his statement this week, setting up the public inquiries to investigate lawbreaking by national newspapers and the failure of previous police investigations to uncover what had gone on.
We must make sure that this marks a turning point in the behaviour of the press.
The most important thing is for the police investigation to go ahead immediately to make sure that people who have broken the law face the full weight of the law. Once that is done we need answers as to how it was allowed to happen and a review of press regulation to stop it happening again.
Everybody knew that some newspapers — and not only the tabloids that are currently under the spotlight — had always got up to some pretty unsavoury things, such as ferreting through people’s bins, but nobody was prepared for just how low some were prepared to sink to get a story.
Hacking into the phones of a murdered teenager and the families of bomb victims and bribing police officers for information goes well beyond the bounds of basic decency.
It is wrong, it is illegal and those involved must face the full consequences of their actions.
Speaking as an MP who wasn’t in Parliament at the time of the MPs’ expenses scandal, I believe that this is the equivalent of it. In both cases, the public had always thought that there were probably some people who were doing ‘dodgy’ things but they were shocked when they saw some of the criminality that was reported.
In the same way that the expenses scandal wasn’t confined to one political party, I am convinced that illegal practices spread beyond one newspaper — or even one group of newspapers. The Information Commissioner reported five years ago that almost all national newspapers — from the Observer to the Daily Sport — had paid private detectives to illegally gain private information about celebrities and other public figures. We should brace ourselves in the weeks ahead for further shocking revelations.
It is important we remember that there is a distinction between the national media and local newspapers like the Burton Mail, who have not been involved in illegal practices.
Local newspapers are a beacon of democracy, keeping people in touch with what is going on locally and nationally.
At their best, local papers offer a vital voice for local people and campaigns.
The fight to save Elizabeth Court showed how a good local newspaper can make a real difference to people’s lives.
It would be a tragedy if this was lost.
I will be working to make sure that, whatever new system is put in place, it is one that allows local newspapers to do what they do best — to inform and represent local communities.