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Strong leadership need on phone hacking corruption

Written by Chandu Krishnan on Wednesday, 9 May 2012

As the phone hacking scandal escalates, more and more evidence is emerging highlighting undercurrents of corruption that are embedded in our media, police, and political institutions. The relationship between media ownership and the UK political establishment has come under particular scrutiny over the past few days.


As the phone hacking scandal escalates, more and more evidence is emerging highlighting undercurrents of corruption that are embedded in our media, police, and political institutions. The relationship between media ownership and the UK political establishment has come under particular scrutiny over the past few days.

Among the revelations that have emerged in recent weeks are:

  • a donation from a powerful media organisation to a sports club closely associated with an influential MP
  • the revolving door between executives from major media organisations and positions as political advisers
  • bribery of police officers
  • a potential cover-up or deliberate delaying of an investigation, within the police
  • the unwillingness of politicians to challenge an organisation that owns large sections of the media
  • the deliberate cosying up to powerful media figures by senior politicians
  • the willingness of a powerful media organisation to be less than honest with Parliament and the Press Complaints Commission
  • the enormous public concern about the approval of News International’s attempt to take over BSkyB.

When you take all this together a disturbing pattern emerges of the abuse of entrusted power, a lack of transparency and accountability and weak checks and balance.

It can be no surprise that politicians are tempted to court the favour of a powerful media empire. The News International website claims that one in four Sunday shoppers has read the News of the World and that there are only three TV shows in Britain that get a daily audience bigger than The Sun’s. The influence of powerful media magnates is undeniable, and there lies the problem. If a company controls a large portion of the UK media circulation, it is inevitable that many with political influence will try to ensure they keep in its favour or avoid its displeasure.

Although it can be easy to tar everyone with the same brush and grow cynical about all who work in these sectors, it is important to remember that there are countless politicians, police officers and journalists who work hard to expose corruption and uphold integrity. It is unfortunate that those who use their positions of influence to act unscrupulously are tarnishing the good reputation of the system as a whole – the police, politics, parliament and the media.

Our recent report, Corruption in the UK, reveals that although not endemic, corruption is a bigger problem in the UK than widely recognised and there is an inadequate response to its growing threat. The recent allegations that Metropolitan Police officers accepted bribes from journalists in exchange for confidential information has further highlighted the vulnerability to corruption in some of the UK’s key institutions.

The phone hacking scandal now leaves no room for denying the fact that the UK has a corruption problem. It may not be as widespread as some countries where the problem is entrenched, but any level of corruption in our public institutions is too much. There must be zero tolerance. Most importantly, the government needs to take corruption more seriously. Ironically, it has appointed an ‘overseas anti-corruption champion’. Who oversees the fight against corruption within the UK? Actually, nobody does. Even worse, some of the oversight structures that are safeguards against corruption, such as the Audit Commission, are being hastily dismantled with apparently no real thought as to the consequences.

Interestingly, the new Bribery Act, which has just come into force, contains severe penalties for those who give or receive bribes, companies that fail to prevent bribery, and senior officers of companies who consent to it, or turn a blind eye. It is a badly-needed law – not just for UK companies operating overseas, but evidently for those that pay bribes in the UK and senior executives who allow it to happen. There should be no place in the UK for a culture of impunity, in which powerful people or organisations involved in corruption do not face the consequences of their actions.

This scandal has shown that, unless it is rooted out swiftly, corruption will increasingly threaten key pillars of the UK’s society and democracy. What we need is strong, clear and coordinated leadership from the Government and Parliament. Complacency is not an option.

This article also featured on politics.co.uk

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Read 8245 times Last modified on Tuesday, 24 November 2015 11:47

Chandu Krishnan

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