‘The ethics are the big issue here, just as much as whether the law was broken’, remarked Chris Bryant in the debate on the phone hacking scandal yesterday. Here, here – for it’s to say that any polity with half an eye on the good life for its citizens can’t be sustained by courts, investigations and enquiries alone. (In this case, the enforcers of the law appear caught up in the breach themselves.)
This is a ‘complete moral failure’, Bryant continued – though he might have said this is another moral failure, if you think of the banking scandal of 2008 and the politicians’ own problems with expenses. Plus, there’s presumably a reason the ‘News of the Screws’ sells so well. Who can say they’ve never enjoyed a titbit of celebrity gossip, with the emphasis on the tit?
There will be a temptation to make more law now, but apart from the risks of limiting a free press, it won’t be worth its weight in vellum. I think we made a relevant point in our Citizen Ethics project at the Guardian 18 months ago. It is a sign of our times that whilst we love to have ethical discussions on piecemeal issues, like assisted dying or maternal surrogacy, there seems to be little moral desire to shape the big forces that determine so much of our way of life today – forces so richly embodied in parts of the media.