John Woodcock: A free press must not be sacrificed

The News International scandal is moving so fast that truly appalling allegations are springing up by the minute and being overtaken almost in the time it takes to post a blog online.

John Woodcock: a free press must not be sacrificed
John Woodcock: a free press must not be sacrificed

Any media organisation, no matter how powerful, is sustained by its audience. And the depth of public outrage over the horrific abuse of vulnerable people is so great, and the ongoing criminal investigation so grave, that it is very hard to predict where all this will end up.

Ed Miliband has shown courage in the way he has spoken up on behalf of the British people, putting aside received wisdom on how political leaders should deal with the upper echelons of the media.

And when the dust settles, he should receive credit for the way he is continuing to champion a free press in the UK - no matter what the outcome of the investigation into phone hacking and the changes needed in how political and media worlds interact.

The News of the World did disgusting things for which the perpetrators must be brought to justice. But I don't celebrate its passing. A strong, investigative press is essential to expose wrongdoing and act as a megaphone to tell MPs what the public is really thinking. At its best the News of the World was brilliant at doing that.

Politicians may not like the highly partisan attacks to which we are subjected - but as long as investigative methods stay within the law we know we would be crazy to regulate such attacks out of existence.

We want a good relationship with all media outlets - and we will continue to invest time to get our message across. But nothing will divert Labour from doing the right thing in the national interest.

We owe that to the people on whose behalf we ask to govern. Miliband gets that. David Cameron needs to face up to the personal embarrassment the appallingly misjudged appointment of Andy Coulson is causing him and take responsibility for what is happening.

This is a dangerous time to develop a tin ear.

John Woodcock is Labour MP for Barrow and Furness, and a former spokesman for ex-prime minister Gordon Brown.

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