Monday, 6 July 2009

Thirst for justice 1; Truth 0

It started this morning listening to John Humphreys interview TUC chief Brendan Barber. Why, Barber was asked, should public sector workers be able to avoid the pay cuts and job losses seen elsewhere in the economy.

Barber's reply was that this was because many public sector workers are low paid (true) and that they were not responsible for the mess the economy is in (highly debatable). Humphreys demurred, saying that only a small number of people were responsible.

This reminds me of a piece by Zoe Williams in the Guardian last week. It is not the most coherent of articles but where it does focus, it says that people want to slake their thirst for justice more than they want to understand the issue. I couldn't agree more.

It it possible that we jump up and down at our MPs because we enjoy doing so, not because the crimes they committed are uniquely heinous. Much of the reason they claimed expenses because of an institutional cowardice to ask for higher pay. The fees office was frequently complicit in the claims made, a part of the Telegraph story that never really fitted with their sensationalist reporting.

The danger of this approach is that nothing significant changes but our world becomes less meaningful and more fearful of media attacks.

A senior civil servant I spoke with a couple of weeks ago says that a majority of her time is now occupied with trivial media requests, as is much of government, and this feeds substantially into policymaking.

Is this how it should be? Does the media use its increased power responsibly? Very few people seem to be asking this most urgent question.

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