So, the Daily Telegraph has exposed the corruption of our MPs and put them to shame on the front pages of our noble newspapers. How wonderful of these public citizens to use their clout to defend the pure British tax-payer against the hypocritical excesses of the politicians who have no motive for public service other than to line their greasy pockets. A warm round of applause, then, for our heroic newspapers.
Or, like me, you’d prefer to bow your head in shame. Yes, some (not all) MPs have played the system and maximised their income from allowable expenses. Yes, the system is terrible and needs urgent reform. Yes, some politicians have been cynical in their exploitation of the rules of the game. Yes, some politicians are possibly corrupt and in the business for the wrong reasons. But should we not also be ashamed at the cynical hypocrisy of our national press?
The newspapers now behave as the moral arbiters they decry the Church for once having been. Almost impossible to counter (have you tried litigation?), they can shred people’s reputations and diminish public trust in institutions. Yet, when was the last time a newspaper editor resigned because of their own moral hypocrisy? When was the last time a journalist – who calls it ‘in the public interest’ when ‘exposing’ someone else – resigned on the grounds that he/she had (a) made an error of moral judgement, (b) had wrongly claimed expenses, (c) had wrongly accused someone of something bad?
Politicians are the authors of their own problems in respect of the current mess. But, the Telegraph should be sued for incitement to criminal activity, if it is demonstrated that they paid for this leaked information (which was due to be published in the autumn anyway). They are also responsible to the public whose moral purity they claim to uphold – arrogating to themselves an unchallengeable priestly power.
Of course, most journalists are honourable people of great integrity trying to make the best of a tough profession. A good press is essential to good democracy – holding the powerful to account and exposing the corrupt. That does not give the exploitative minority the ‘right’ to use corrupt means to make gains from scoops. I can’t help feeling that, despite the awfulness of exploitative MPs, the awfulness of the media coverage is also nauseating.
Will editors and journalists now publish their expenses records (with receipts, of course) and – in the interests of transparency, of course – publish their diaries so that we can see who they have been meeting and by whom they might have been influenced? They might not be ‘public servants’, paid from the public purse, but they wield enormous power and don’t usually disclose their influences.
Don’t hold your breath.