After the August riots, Ed Miliband rightly made a connection between the “me-first” culture evident in the riots and that which was displayed in the scandals involving MPs’ expenses and phone hacking. And yet, in spite of the connection that is now frequently made between those two scandals, there has been an unsurprising lack of comment on how MPs and journalists have fared so very differently.
No MP, not even those whom the Telegraph described as “saints“, escaped the general public opprobrium over the expense scandal. It didn’t matter whether you’d broken the law, broken the rules (a much larger category — not that it necessarily meant paying anything back), or done nothing wrong at all. You got as much flack in the press if you claimed for a biscuit or TV (as long as it was colour) as if you actually broke the rules. They did all acquiesce in the system which allowed the “me-first” expenses culture to develop. Maybe they deserved to share in the blame — although a number got off too lightly, as we argued this week.
Journalists, however, have escaped all this. A tiny number have faced charges for criminal acts. We certainly welcome the impending downfall of the Murdochs, in the States even if not here. Most will escape even any investigation for criminal acts which are undoubtedly widespread and not limited to phone hacking. However, illegality is just the tip of the iceberg of immorality, and so it has been since journalism began.
How many journalists have not lied and conned their way into breaches of confidentiality in the interest of getting a story. Of course, that is not always illegal, but is it moral? There may be a public interest justification, in which case it is forgivable. But what exactly is the public interest? It doesn’t cover anyone who has done no wrong themselves. It doesn’t cover victims of rape or murder or cancer patients, whose privacy and that of their families is so often trampled upon in the interests of a story. It shouldn’t cover so-called celebrities who are entitled to privacy. It doesn’t cover the families of politicians. It doesn’t cover people whose comments are twisted or just made up to turn a poor story into a better one.
Journalists aren’t the same as MPs. Their accountability works differently. But they were happy to pursue a scattergun approach to MPs’ morality. It’s about time they turned their spotlight on their own morality.