Phone Hacking

This week, I have received countless emails from constituents rightly appalled at the criminal activities that have forced the News of the World to close. 

In the light of these new revelations, all three major parties united on Wednesday to pass the motion that ‘this House believes that it is in the public interest for Rupert Murdoch and News Corporation to withdraw their bid for BSkyB.'

We have a real problem with privacy in this country.  The public have been outraged by these allegations but, until it closed on Sunday, the News of the World had the largest circulation of any newspaper in the English language.

The truth is that intrusion into the lives of celebrities and politicians was tolerated as being in the public interest - or at least interesting to the public - but people rightly believe that moving on to murder victims and bereaved families crosses the Rubicon.

It is a measure of how deeply this scandal goes that a constituent, who is not a celebrity, has written to me fearing that their own phone was hacked after a tragic, and publically reported, bereavement.

But this is a problem that goes beyond illegality.  It is not just obtaining information illicitly that can cause such terrible grief.

As we saw in the Milly Dowler case, insensitive reporting of public events like trials or inquests can gratuitously reopen the wounds of grieving families.

Another constituent had not only to endure the intimate details of her daughter's death being aired at the inquest, but then saw the whole event reported, without any thought for her feelings, in the local press.

The Prime Minister has pledged that the public inquiry, led by Lord Justice Leveson, will look first into phone hacking before going on to scrutinise the wider press culture in this country.

But we must start to learn the wider lessons for the future of the press now.

The public objects to the excesses of tabloid journalism.  Yet millions of us buy tabloid papers every day - albeit that total circulation is falling.

In the end, the public must decide what is acceptable and whether it will buy those newspapers.

That is the most powerful message we can send.

Christopher N Howarth