Industrialist and Labour peer Swaraj Paul has said that Jacintha Saldanha, the Indian nurse who committed suicide after falling victim to a hoax call by two Australian radio presenters, was a casualty of abuse of power by the media and called for independent regulation of the British press in the wake of the News of the World phone-hacking scandal.
Speaking at the House of Lords in a debate on the Leveson report on media ethics, Lord Paul said: “Freedom of the press is vital in maintaining democracy and, fortunately, Britain has some of the best journalists in the world who have set the benchmarks for ethical reporting. In India we admired many British journalists like James Cameron and Mark Tully. Just last month the Indian Journalists presented their Lifetime Achievement Award posthumously to Sir Charles Wheeler. But ordinary citizens who find themselves caught in the media spotlight, often at a time of extreme crisis or loss, should reasonably expect that their personal information is not illegally accessed and published.”
He said the Saldanha case represented “the pinnacle of the abuse of power by the media over the individual”. He called for full implementation of the Leveson report which has recommended a statutory regime to ensure independent regulation of the press.
Lord Paul also highlighted the growing concern over corruption in British public life, including the unhealthy “cosy relationship” between the press and politicians. He said while British politicians discussed corruption in other countries they ignored it in their own backyard.
“Corruption extends well beyond simple monetary gain to the abuse of power. [Lord] Leveson has revealed that our politicians and governments have had what is at best an unhealthily close relationship with the press over many years, and at worst something more sinister. Our leaders must recognise that others look to them as an example. Their behaviour must be, and must be seen to be, unimpeachable at all times. They set the standard for the nation to follow. There can be no deals, at any level, between the media and our politicians. I have seen corruption in certain countries which has destroyed the fabric of society for ordinary people and lowered the prestige of those countries internationally. This House has often discussed the question of corruption in other countries; perhaps the time has come to recognise that it is also happening here and something needs to be done — and speedily”, he said.