Calling time on absent press barons
Ownership of the media should be in the hands of citizens who live and pay taxes in our nation.
As one of the politicians involved in settlement of the phone-hacking cases on 19 January, I believe it should mark the beginning of a serious inquiry into the power and arrogance of the offshore-owned press in Britain. I don't mind being beaten up by journalists for my politics, and treasure a Sun editorial when I was Europe minister that was headed simply "MacShame". But I was stupefied when the police approached me last year about Rupert Murdoch's journalists organising the hacking of my mobile phone when I was Europe minister.
I am not a celebrity and my personal life is unexciting. It is true that as part of the tabloids' culture of destroying the private lives of politicians, another of the offshore-owned papers, the Daily Mail, ran a fatuous story about a warm, stable relationship I was involved in after an amiable divorce a decade ago. The Mail informed its readers I had obtained a "secret divorce". As all divorces are listed openly in the courts, the concept of a "secret divorce" was an invention to justify a story that involved Mail reporters shouting at my children through a letter box at a house I did not live in, and so frightening my then partner with their harassment that she had to leave her home.
In an earlier case, a Mail on Sunday reporter invaded the home of my 86-year-old mother, recovering from a severe stroke in her Rotherham bungalow. He was searching for anything to damage me as a minister, without the slightest news justification. Now, in a piece of monumental chutzpah, Lord Rothermere's executives have tried to censor their journalists from giving anonymous witness evidence to Leveson, telling the high court that "unsubstantiated allegations" - the meat and potatoes of many Mail stories - is a bad thing! The high court refused to be bullied.
But the Murdoch invasion of my ministerial privacy was of a different order. The police showed me details about a confidential government mission I was undertaking as minister for Europe to try to solve a problem that bedevilled relations with an important European state. In those pre-BlackBerry days ministerial private offices left messages on mobile phones, which Murdoch's minion hacked. It was as if a Murdoch man had wandered into the Foreign Office and stolen papers off my desk.
Which other ministers faced similar invasions of their confidential government work? What is distressing is that a man who does not live here,
pays no taxes here, owes no loyalty to Britain or to our way of life should preside over a system that considered such behaviour normal.
Leveson is not asked to comment on ownership. But surely the time has come to insist that ownership of the media should be in the hands of citizens who live and pay taxes in our nation, as is the norm in the US and most other democracies. If our political leaders are serious about modernising and reforming Britain, we need a media rooted in our values and under the control of people who at a minimum are based here and pay taxes like the rest of us.
I never wanted to become part of this and the money I was awarded does not begin to cover legal fees in another case against me which is still under investigation, initiated in 2009 by the BNP. David Cameron may feel his dalliance with Rupert Murdoch was worthwhile, just as the homage Tony Blair made to our latter-day Citizen Kane, or the honours bestowed upon editors employed by Rothermere or Conrad Black all made government leaders think they would get favourable coverage.
Nothing could be further from the truth, as Mr Cameron will learn. The press and democratically elected politicians need to do their duty separately, not as conjoined pimps and prostitutes. Where is today's Stanley Baldwin, ready to spell out this vital truth for democracy?
Cameron may have been forced to ditch Coulson and recast his relations with Murdoch's editors. But there is a desire for a different press and it is time to bring our media back to Britain by insisting that those who own and dictate our news and opinions should be full members of our society.
Last summer, Ed Miliband won dividends by taking a huge risk and ditching 15 years of Blair-Brown genuflection before Rupert Murdoch. With political instinct that caught the mood, something snapped in Miliband and we saw a glint of real steel. It forced Cameron on to the defensive; it began the process that led to Murdoch's humiliation and helped dispel the notion that newspaper proprietors and editors who destroy people are above criticism.
Since then, Miliband has got David Cameron and Vince Cable dancing to his tune on responsible capitalism and high pay. Can he now make it Labour policy that our press is part of Britain and not the plaything of offshore proprietors?
Denis MacShane is the MP for Rotherham
More from New Statesman
- Online writers:
- Steven Baxter
- Rowenna Davis
- David Allen Green
- Mehdi Hasan
- Nelson Jones
- Gavin Kelly
- Helen Lewis
- Laurie Penny
- The V Spot
- Alex Hern
- Martha Gill
- Alan White
- Samira Shackle
- Alex Andreou
- Nicky Woolf in America
- Bim Adewunmi
- Kate Mossman on pop
- Ryan Gilbey on Film
- Martin Robbins
- Rafael Behr
- Eleanor Margolis