Interestingly hostile reactions from several journalists to my last blog – which made me go back and re-think it. The problem is that I stand by what I wrote, even if the tone was pretty harsh.
When dealing with moral issues, we cannot take one case in isolation from others. Maybe now is not the time for the media to give attention to their own behaviour – the preoccupation with the expenses hysteria is too noisy – but attention needs to be given to it at some point. British journalism is an embarrassment in other parts of the world of which I have first-hand knowledge. I also spent years reading Pravda, Izvestiya and other propaganda organs in the bad old days and keep up with them (from time to time) even now; this is a complicated area and worthy of more sober examination. ‘Media morality’ is too important a social matter to be left as an academic concern of the few – it impinges on psychology as well as sociology.
Roy Greenslade has defended the Telegraph in his blog. I take his point (you’ll have to read it to see what that is), but think there remain questions about the ethics of buying leaks – for example, the diminution of trust such behaviour engenders. And, for the record, Martin Beckford has written helpfully about ‘an honest MP’.
Let’s be clear:
- there are some very good journalists whose judgements I trust and whose integrity (in a tough world) I respect. Good media are essential to good democracy. The media have a vital role in investigating where subterfuge is designed to conceal what should be exposed to the light. (Roy Greenslade cites the case of Thalidomide.)
- Most MPs offer themselves for public service and do a very good job. Their reward is to be pilloried by a media that then asks why people trust politicians so little. We are mature – we can de-elect them next time round if we don’t like them.
- Criticism of the bad needs to be balanced by elevation of the good. Where are the good stories about politicians? Or are we content to see a generation of cynics grow up, exposed only to our sneering contempt? Why would the sort of people we want to go into public life actually do so – when all you can expect is this sort of negative attention?
- This is not about publishing only anodyne fluff stories. It is about portraying the whole of life and praising what is good as well as castigating the bad.
But, I repeat the question that won’t go away: will editors publish their expenses with receipts? The media are not morally neutral and do not occupy neutral space in our society.