Why we still need the News of the Screws (rather than doped up bloodhounds)….

It has to be said that I don’t agree with our esteemed Welsh blogger Dewi.

Boycotting the News of the World or the Sun, or even these days The Times or Sunday Times is not an option for me personally, because I rarely read any of them (certainly not since Trevor Kavanagh departed as politic editor). Though declaring an interest, last year, for the first time, I did sell The London Times one analysis piece on the Iris Robinson story.

So, cards now sincerely dumped on the table, I have to agree with Michael White that not everything the Sun or the NOTW did or does is wrong, or socially regressive:

…the tabloids serve a useful purpose in exposing wrongdoing, sometimes in ways that hapless and high-minded broadsheets, let alone lofty broadcasters, wouldn’t know how to start.

I realise it’s annoying, but it’s true. Would the Financial Times, an admirable newspaper in so many ways, have been able to expose bookmaker-inspired corruption inside the Pakistani cricket team, as the Screws did? No, I don’t think so.

He goes on:

It’s clear that the News International culture – certainly at the Sun and the NoW – allowed some to ignore the law or assume they could break it with no public interest defence to justify their excesses.

I have to add here that some of my friends who work – or have worked – within the Murdoch empire say they are respectable in public, ruthless behind closed doors. Others report, evidently distressed, that most NoW staff really didn’t know what was going on.

Accountability is surely the key. If you can say “we cut corners to expose serious wrongdoing”, a court (or jury) may accept your defence as it will not if it is merely a footballer’s status as a “love rat”. But you have to be accountable.

That’s why I often say that of the two groups I know best – politicians and hacks – the pols are more honest, not because they are more noble but because they are much more accountable, both to voters and – of course – the media.

And:

…what we need: the law to be enforced and regulation of the media to be put on a tougher footing more comparable to the way other industries and professions are regulated. It’s pathetic of the Press Complaints Commission (PCC) to moan that it was lied to by the Murdochies. No, it was the PCC which deceived the PCC. Either it’s a real regulator or a mere mediator. It’s make-your-mind-up time.

That goes for police accountability too. The Met has long had a close relationship with the tabloids, especially the investigative heavies of the NoW. Sometimes that can be beneficial to the public as well as to both parties and the coppers who take pay-offs, sometimes via post-career columns in the Murdoch press, sometimes brown envelopes for lower ranks.

That must be the prime motive for soft-pedalling on the investigation of the NoW hacking files.

But if this row weakens the press rather than merely regulates its excesses, it will be a good day for the rich and powerful (including dodgy press barons) and a bad day for most of us. Just look across the Channel where the French press has long been a doped bloodhound asleep in its kennel.

Mick is founding editor of Slugger. He has written papers on the impacts of the Internet on politics and the wider media and is a regular guest and speaking events across Ireland, the UK and Europe. Twitter: @MickFealty