George Eustice: Time to bring media back under control

On Tuesday, News International executives appeared before the DCMS select committee. This followed a fraught week where the crisis accelerated and where barely a day went by without a fresh resignation.

George Eustice: Time to bring media back under control
George Eustice: Time to bring media back under control

Despite the discomfort the hacking crisis might cause David Cameron, it has reunited him with his natural instincts regarding the media. When I was his press secretary, we pursued a strategy of quietly puncturing the arrogance of both editors and proprietors and raising the status of what I termed real journalism. It was the settled position of Cameron's inner team that, if he were invited to speak at News Corp's annual conference, he would have politely declined in order to send a signal that Murdoch's power was not recognised. Shrill leader columns were also to be ignored as one might ignore a child's tantrum. Political parties were to decide the agenda and newspapers were to report it.

Despite the four-year detour, now is the time to return to those values. The British media have been out of control for too long and journalism itself has suffered. Some have speculated that Cameron has been damaged by his association with Andy Coulson and other figures in News International but what matters most is his response to this current crisis. By making clear that self-regulation of the media has failed and that the Press Complaints Commission needs to be replaced, he has already done more after a year than Labour did in a decade. If we emerge from this with a properly regulated media then both journalism and our democracy will be stronger.

The biggest failing of the PCC was that its own code was not enforced correctly. The 'public interest' defence, which is a central part of the code, was used and abused by press barons over many years. Worse still, the PCC Code said that even the public interest test could be disregarded if a story was likely 'to become in the public domain' anyway. It was the lack of certainty about what constituted the public interest that led to the malaise and it is not confined to News International. Now Cameron has a chance to put it right.

George Eustice is Conservative MP for Camborne and Redruth and a former press secretary to David Cameron.

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