The aftermath of the News International scandal could leave us with a healthier media, says RAYMOND BOYLE
As the News International story unfolds each day it is making us all take stock about how we expect the media to interact with politicians. Whether we like it or not they need each other as our modern day democracy would be silent and we would be without the means to receive political messages if there was no interaction between the two.
From as far back as the Roman Empire there have been news reports to the population by observers who conveyed the discussions at the Senate, so nothing in that sense has changed. People want to know how political decisions will affect their lives and the media has a responsibility to observe and inform about events fairly and impartially. It is always the sign of a good reporter that only the facts are reported and the reader is left to draw their own conclusions about matters.
The interaction between the politicians and the media has to be free of regulation because if it becomes restrictive it reduces the flow of discussion and good information to such an extent that democracy is then conducted in a bubble and this defeats the purpose of freedom of speech and the principle of democracy. There is a responsibility both on the politicians and the media to have a balanced relationship based upon trust and honesty; without that balance, one overpowers the other to the detriment of society.
It has to be said that what is happening, at the moment, has been a rogue operation to the detriment of journalism by a company that completely lost its way by deploying unscrupulous methods in order to obtain a story. That doesn’t mean to say that all journalists are like this; they are most certainly not. The vast majority do a very good and professional job in reporting the news on the radio, TV and in the newspapers. We all know who they are because we listen to them and read what they have to say.
All political parties recognise the necessity of engaging with the media and obtaining the endorsement of a major media outlet is a serious assist in any election for any party, and we have all done this in the past. I don’t think that this will change too much in the future once the whole News International crisis has blown over.
So what is the answer? Among the options are:
- Only allowing one company to have a maximum of 20 per cent control of all media outlets.
- Reporting should be based upon what is in the public interest and NOT what interests the public.
- A Media Complaints Committee to address all areas of media excesses as opposed to the Press Complaints Commission. This body would have the ability to impose fines of millions of pounds for incorrect behaviour.
- Make incumbent upon news editors to ensure that they are aware of all information sources.
I think in light of all the recent events and the ones yet to come that there will be a much healthier approach to news reporting and political dialogue as a result of everything that has happened. This can only be to the benefit of democracy. With power there is responsibility and that applies to everyone involved.
Raymond Boyle is a former Labour councillor.