Messy divorce for politicians and journalists

Anthony Browne
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A MARRIAGE breakdown rarely brings out the best in people. The temptation to pursue vendettas for past grievances can become overwhelming. As the media-political partnership ends in the divorce courts, it is getting messy.

The politicians most angrily seeking revenge on the press are those who felt most hard done by in the expenses scandal – or the ones who were most frustrated at feeling compelled to smile politely at Rupert Murdoch despite loathing his right-wing tendencies. The almost invisible Gordon Brown has suddenly reappeared in the television studios to get his own back on the news baron for supporting the Conservatives in the election, despite the allegations of the Sun hacking into his son’s medical records apparently being baseless.

Folks, let’s keep this civilised. The relationship will change, but it will carry on – journalists and politicians can’t do their jobs without each other.

But one thing that shouldn’t carry on is the feeling among many journalists that they are above the law. In my time on Fleet Street, I had many conversations with other hacks who clearly felt the rules just didn’t apply to them. The end – getting a story – always justified the means. They would look down at police and think – just you dare try come and get me. Don’t pick a fight with someone who buys ink by the barrel.

I remember serious brawling breaking out between senior newspaper executives at a very prestigious press awards ceremony, causing damage at a top London hotel. Police were called – but there were no charges, and no story ever appeared in the newspapers.

It was that feeling of untouchability that led journalists to break the law endemically ­– and politicians to fiddle expenses. It led managers – whether newspaper executives or party leaders – to be complacent about illegal practices going on under them.

But with journalists and politicians being sent to jail, that sense of untouchability has been shattered. A free press is vitally important, as is democracy. But just as fundamental is the rule of law – even for journalists and politicians.

Anthony Browne is a board member of theCityUK