Medieval justice for politicians

Umberto Eco ("Don't slip on the media's banana skins", 18/25 December) makes a strong argument regarding the gossip-obsessed nature of contemporary media. His analysis now looks all the more prescient given the resignations of Peter Mandelson and Geoffrey Robinson.

While attention tends to focus on the actions of individual ministers caught up in "scandals", there has been little reflection on the role of the media in presenting these as issues for public concern.

The danger is that the media are, in effect, developing a neo-medieval system of justice for public figures. The aim is not to establish whether a politician is guilty or innocent of a particular misdemeanour; merely to be placed under suspicion appears to be enough to find the accused at least a little bit guilty. Unlike the Tories, new Labour has, thankfully, grasped the logic of this process and acted decisively where even the spectre of corruption has been raised. More worrying, however, is the question of how governments can project and retain an image of governing competence under such an unforgiving media gaze.

Stuart McAnulla
Cotteridge, Birmingham

This article first appeared in the 08 January 1999 issue of the New Statesman, Stuff the millennium