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UK corruption scandals – should we laugh or cry?

Written by Alice McCool on Thursday, 24 July 2014

Last night, 13 of the more cultured members of Transparency International UK staff (including me, naturally) went on a little excursion to see Richard Bean’s new play at the National Theatre, Great Britain. Fancy. But it wasn’t exactly non-work related – the production is a “grotesque satire” of the phone hacking scandal which exposed the illegal interception of phones by newspapers within the past decade.


Last night 13 of the more cultured members of Transparency International UK staff (including me, naturally) went on a little excursion to see Richard Bean’s new play at the National Theatre, Great Britain. Fancy. But it wasn’t exactly non-work related – the production is a “grotesque satire” of the phone hacking scandal which exposed the illegal interception of phones by newspapers within the past decade.

The production begun after the verdicts of the trial were released about a month ago (Rebekah Brooks got the all clear Andy Coulson was found guilty of conspiring to hack phones), although we’re still waiting on the retrial of Andy Coulson and Clive Goodman’s bribery charges. Aside from being quite literally cheek-hurtingly funny the play illustrates the corrupt web of influence involving those at the top of the UK government, police and media which the scandal helped expose – so well that at times it made pretty uncomfortable watching.

Despite its exaggerated and farcical nature, this dramatic interpretation of the cosy relationships made the wider issues surrounding the scandal feel more real to me than ever before. The apparent absence of morals with which individuals concerned conducted themselves meant the privacy of numerous innocent people was violated, and the UK’s democratic system undermined. The fact that such practices went on under our noses is nothing short of terrifying.

Billy Piper’s ambitious News Editor character in the production states that our system is one where “20 people talk to 20 people who talk to 20 people”, and I fear that due to poorly regulated lobbying party funding and revolving door in UK politics, she may not be too far from the truth. We can at least say with certainty that there is a lot we still don’t know. But what should be done about the issues the scandal revealed?  In its review of the show the Guardian (dubbed ‘The Guardener: we think so you don’t have to’ in the play, ha) states:

“Bean never tackles the thorniest question: how to devise a system that ensures the press is both responsibly accountable and free from government interference.”

This is true, although we shouldn’t forget equally thorny questions concerning lobbying and police ethics. But these questions needn’t be answered in a single theatre production. Great Britain should be recognised for what it is – an excellent example of political satire (performed by hugely talented actors) bringing issues to the fore which people care about – in this case corruption. If this kind of thing makes you angry, go and see it. In terms of exploring the issue further and thinking about next steps, you could start by reading our considerably less sexy submission to the Leveson inquiry in 2011. Or if you’re interested specifically in the media angle check out some of the ideas put forward by Hacked Off.

It is important the British public is aware of the wider institutional issues the phone hacking scandal exposed and that we think about how to tackle them. I hate to be a party pooper, but as I said after the verdict of the trial came out a few weeks back – the scandal’s not over yet.

 

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Read 8744 times Last modified on Tuesday, 24 November 2015 12:18

Alice McCool

Alice formerly worked for Transparency International UK as our Campaigns Officer. You can tweet her via @McCoolingtons.

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