The power of the press has, almost from nowhere, become one of the defining leitmotifs of this Parliament. Only two years ago, the Telegraph exerted that power to (partially) clean out British politics, and won general acclaim in the process. But now, it seems, the media is more likely to have its actions attacked, or at least questioned and contained. Whether it is the Press Complaint Commissions’s censure today for those clandestine Cable tapes, or the continuing hoo-hah over super-injunctions and their infraction, there is a question hanging unavoidably in the air: how much does the public have a right to know?
This is a precarious political issue, not least because of the immediate problems it has thrust upon the coalition. The Cable situation was itself, of course, a question of public interest versus private concern — and it had ramifications for another matter of media power, Rupert Murdoch’s takeover of BSkyB. The resignation of Andy Coulson was a function of the phone-hacking scandal. And now super-injunctions are the subject of fevered conversation in Parliament. David Cameron’s position, so far, is that he is “uneasy” about their use to protect the identities of celebrities. But he hasn’t gone any further than that, one assumes because he is stuck between two troublesome, rhetorical extremes: restricting the press, and giving them free rein.
This isn’t just one for the politicians who set our privacy laws — but also for the media themselves, natch. A year ago, in advance of the general election, I wondered whether the public had come to mistrust the media, and particularly their political wing. And it is certainly a question that needs airing again now. CoffeeHousers, your thoughts please.