Michael White: “like repainting the Forth Bridge, it is a permanent process”

Notwithstanding the sudden demise of the NOTW, as Mick noted here, at the Guardian’s Politics blog Michael White follows up yesterday’s excellent post with another considered piece.  From Michael White

The point to bear in mind is that we can fix this, too, if we have the will and the staying power. Voters with their low boredom thresholds and salacious reading habits as well as public officials can act. Politics suffered a bad scandal two years ago and is in the process of healing its worst scars though, like repainting the Forth Bridge, it is a permanent process. Now it is the turn of the media and perhaps the police.

Scotland Yard in the late 1960s was a much dirtier place than it is today. The pre-Murdoch Times did a brilliant expose of corruption in 1969 (a bent copper slipped a stick of dynamite into the hand of a thief he was pretending to greet, so as to get incriminating finger prints, as I recall) and the new broom, Robert Mark, became the first of a wave of reformers.

But we place much heavier demands on the cops nowadays, far more than in the sentimentalised 60s when the old Dixon of Dock Green image was only slowly giving way to a darker Z Cars TV perspective.

Openness and accountability are the key to healthier public institutions, always provided – a big “if” — that the media fairly report both failings and successes of those institutions and is held to account better in its turn. Murdoch is 80 and won’t last for ever; his empire will go the way of empires. Meanwhile, he too should be checked.

At the end of my busy day yesterday, I did a turn on the BBC World Service – new BBC chairman, Chris Patten, seems to be trying to rescue it from the wreckers – with a French journalist who deplored the intrusive nature of Anglo-Saxon media. Womanising is not a crime, Dominique Strauss-Khan never pretended to be what he isn’t, he argued. What good does it do?

Well, Tim Garton Ash has a pretty smart column on that subject today which I commend. As for me, I asked my French friend if the Paris press – about which I was rude yesterday – should have written up President Mitterrand’s girlfriend and their daughter, living in the Elysee on the public purse? Ah well, yes, perhaps that case, he conceded. Perhaps we are too deferential.

He’s right and we may be too destructive on our side of the Channel. We all have much to learn in London, Paris and even Athens.

And in Belfast too?  This from a Slugger post in August 2010.

The media had not just a right but a duty to make things awkward for politicians, especially those in government, according to David Gordon, political editor of the Belfast Telegraph.

In the North journalists were sometimes told to hold back on a story in case they might do damage to the delicate administration, he said. While this was not a point to ignore, you couldn’t make exceptions, he said. [added emphasis]

If the doomsayers were correct about the demise of newspapers then society would miss journalism when it was gone, he said.

Already in an attempt to gain readers there was a danger of newspapers becoming hysterical and damaging good journalism. If things are overhyped and everything is a scandal, then nothing is a scandal, he added.  [extra added emphasis]

But read the whole [Michael White] thing.

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