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Parliament hasn't got the media on the run

By Paul Goodman
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MPs have a new swagger in their step.  This morning, they are threatening to hold Rupert Murdoch in "contempt of Parliament" if he avoids appearing before the Culture, Media and Sport Select Committee next week.  A Labour Select Committee Chairman wants those who avoid committee hearings to face criminal charges.  Yesterday, enraged MPs paid back years of the humiliation wreaked on them by the media, and tore Murdoch's reputation apart, following where the Home Affairs Select Committee led earlier this week when it shredded John Yates and Andy Hayman.  The Commons wants payback for the expenses scandal, and hope surreptitiously for a return to a more deferential age of journalism.  Will MPs get what they want?

It is possible that Murdoch is preparing to get out of British newspapers altogether, and that he's now willing to sell the Sun and the Times.  The Sun makes a profit.  The Times makes a loss, but such a venerable title is likely to attract a buyer.  So even if the Sunday Times is rolled into a new seven-day Times operation, the long-term future of newspapers will be decided not by what a judge will report but by whether they win readers.  But even if print vanishes entirely, the internet won't - and nor will whatever the next technological breakthrough may bring.  True, the expenses scandal was given projection and momentum by appearing in print: reading the Telegraph's printed summary was easier than surfing the net.

None the less, the facts and figures would have detonated much the same sensation had they simply been published online in a post-print age.  The levelling transparency and accountability is a by-product of the new media, and it isn't going to be disinvented any more than are nuclear weapons or penicillin.  An MP caught up in a scandal will be treated no less reverently by the media post-Hackgate than before - and there's no evidence to believe that voters will be more likely to give him or her the benefit of the doubt.  The only means of cowing the media would be statutory regulation.  It's possible that the enquiry could recommend it - a conclusion that would delight many MPs - but the media, old and new, would unite to take it on.

Parliament can vote as it pleases, hemmed in though it is by the judiciary and the European institutions.  And if it is determined enough to put media regulation on the statute book, then it can.  But in the long-term battle between MPs and the media as a whole, there will only be one winner - and it isn't the former.  In any event, there's no short-term sign of the status of MPs reviving, or medium-term prospect of the trend towards MPs as professional politicians ending.  Since such politicians by definition are paid by the taxpayer, it follows that the piper will carry on calling the tune - insisting on the publication of expenses details, comparing MPs voting records, demanding swift responses to e-mails, and placing embarrassing videos of them on YouTube.  MPs shouldn't get their hopes up.

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