Propostion: Politicians must be held to a higher ethical standard
by Adam Tyndall
Be honest, you love the tabloids. You care more about Cameron texting like your mum than his message admitting “Miliband’s got me on the run”. The notion that the Leveson Inquiry will raise the tone of our public debate is worthy of only one response: LOL.
So what will it change? Just as The Oxford Student and the Oxford Union are bastions of self-importance and mutual blame, so it is in the Westminster bubble. Th e burden of the Leveson Inquiry will fall either on journalists or politicians.
Whilst the allegations about politicians seem mostly trivial – equestrian habits fall on a Raisa’s edge between trite and trifling – the charges laid at the doors of Fleet Street are abhorrent. Despite this, it is the politicians who should be challenged once the middle classes’ alternative to daytime TV finally ceases. Murdoch’s most egregious crimes will be settled by police operations. Questions of legality will be addressed and press laws updated for the twenty-first century. This makes it tempting for Lord Leveson to blame the media too.
Our first response should be that politicians employing lawyers to alter the media is rarely a good idea. Aside from the ethical issues, it tends not to work. Not to mention the fact that the most intractable problem requires a culture shift which cannot be achieved through the legislative printing press.
The crux of the matter is the fundamental difference between these two species. One group run businesses; the other run the country. This does not absolve the media of responsibility but politicians must be held to a higher ethical standard. For our representatives to retain their democratic legitimacy, they must remain a part of the population over which they govern. They must be ‘of the people’ not ‘of the pyjama party’.
The revelations that sparked the Leveson Inquiry are symptomatic of a political elite (of all parties) who feel themselves entitled to rule over us. They are removed from the general mass of British citizens. If Lord Leveson fails to adequately address political power and its position in society, he will have failed his ethical remit.
The alienated elite undeniably includes some of the media, but our concern is with politicians because no citizen can live entirely removed from political structures. Thankfully we can choose to avoid Richard Littlejohn. His legitimacy can be challenged at the newsagents but it won’t be, because you love the tabloids.
Rebuttal: Let’s not forget the original purpose of this inquiry
By Sophie Jamieson
It’s been almost a year now since the need for the Leveson Inquiry was first declared by our esteemed Prime Minister (and for almost a year Dave’s been trying to play down his former chumminess with everyone’s favourite demon redhead) so it’s easy to forget exactly what the Inquiry was set up to do.
We’ve heard testimonies from victimised celebs from Hugh Grant to J K Rowling, we’ve watched Piers Morgan give a masterclass on how not to answer a question and we’ve seen Rupert Murdoch squirm in his chair, fearful of another pie attack. Amidst this circus, you’d be forgiven for thinking that the Inquiry was set up to fill the pages of newspapers, not regulate them.
But let’s not forget the original aim Lord Justice Leveson outlined when he set about his mammoth task last November. The press provides an essential check on all aspects of public life,” he announced as he opened the Inquiry. “At the heart of this Inquiry, therefore, may be one simple question: who guards the guardians?”
The very clear purpose of the Inquiry, then, was to decide how best to regulate the press, not the politicians. Though an entertaining side note, it was not our premier riding a media baron’s horse, but the News of the World’s phone hacking scandal, that started this whole debacle.
That’s not to say that politicians are blameless in the insalubrious world of media conduct; far from it. It seems clear that the relationships between the press and the parties, and indeed the press and the police, have been a little too close for comfort in recent times.
However, those who were keen for Jeremy Hunt to give evidence to Leveson sooner (including, of course, Hunt himself), were missing the point. Although we must closely scrutinise political ethics in relation to the press, that is not the job of the Leveson Inquiry.
If Hunt was biased in his handling of the BSkyB bid, that’s a simple case of ministerial misconduct. Yet simple though it may be, it’s beyond the remit of Leveson. Hunt, like all his fellow MPs, is accountable to Parliament and to the people, but not to an inquiry into press regulation.
A full-scale inquiry into the ethics of politicians may well be necessary, but let Leveson alone to do the job he set out to do, lest we find ourselves forgetting quite what that job was.