Phone hacking: Does a letter in the Bolton News give us a much-needed alternative view?

The Bolton News
The Bolton News

Every now and again, the worlds of politics and media collide and it becomes entirely possible for many within both bubbles to lose a sense of what is really important to the people who really matter – the people who don’t spend their entire lives within those bubbles.

I spotted this letter in the Bolton News last week. It’s about phone hacking:

WITH Scotland Yard becoming involved, and one distressed victim paid a six-figure sum, celebrity phone hacking is clearly seen as far more serious than using a mobile phone whilst driving.

How many celebrities have been killed by phone hackers? Who knows how many innocent roadusers have been killed by drivers “secretly” using their mobile?

Hundreds for sure!

Driver distraction and disregard for road safety has definitely worsened with the nation’s addiction to the likes of Facebook and Twitter.

Major cut backs to traffic policing won’t help!

The threat of using a mobile whilst driving was highlighted by the Transport Research Laboratory. Drivers are seriously distracted by in-car technology — mobile phone use slowed reaction times by as much as 35 per cent. Compare this to the slowed reaction time of 15 per cent for a driver at the drinkdrive limit, and using a mobile whilst driving presents much the same threat to life and limb as that presented by a drink-driver (along with uninsured drivers, the scourge of our roads). Time for driving bans for ignoring the mobile phone ban?

The worst case of driver distraction caused six deaths.

The Statham family from Llandudno — both parents and four children — were engulfed in a fireball when a wagon ploughed into their people carrier on the M6 in 2008. A laptop found on the wagon’s dash board was linked to the driver’s “gross inattention”. Three years on from that community-destroying tragedy and with the ban on drivers using a mobile whilst driving becoming law back in 2007, the threat to vulnerable road users — like people cycling to work because they can’t afford petrol — is worse than ever it was.

A useless law for the poor and vulnerable, a very effective law for the rich and famous!

Allan Ramsay,  RoadPeace,  Radcliffe

On one hand, it would be easy to dismiss Mr Ramsay’s letter as the opinion of one man with a vested interested – he is involved in RoadPeace, the road safety charity. You could also argue that comparing phone hacking to deaths caused by using mobile phones is similar to comparing the slashing of tyres to a stabbing – after all, both involve a knife.

But his letter did make me wonder whether the collision of the political and media worlds in the phone hacking scandal has distorted the perception of how important the issue is to members of the public.

Politics and the media share many skills in common: The ability to communicate, to present an argument, to uncover things people would like to remain under wraps. But both also share common traits – one of which is that both love talking about themselves. When they collide, perception can go out of the window.

I’m not saying phone hacking should be tolerated and allegations ignored, just that with everything else going around us at the moment, there is perhaps a need for a little perspective. Maybe in this case, that perspective comes from letters page of the Bolton News.


2 thoughts on “Phone hacking: Does a letter in the Bolton News give us a much-needed alternative view?

  1. David,
    I have to disagree entirely. The death of loved ones, while tragic and difficult for the immediate family, is not as critical to the survival of the regime, which protects all of us. If death was the worst evil we could face, so thought Hobbes (another eminent Englishman), then we would be slaves and unwilling to fight for our freedom.

    The phone hacking scandal is not about celebrity bonking, it is about political corruption at the heart of the regime. When the laws are flouted and political regimes are corrupted, we all suffer and none of us safe. By contrast, accidents do happen and will continue to happen, statistically and naturally. (Otherwise they would not be called accidents.) They will be tragic and they will hurt individuals, but the regime can survive them. At a bare minimum, one can stay off the roads to avoid bad drivers.

    Political corruption, by contrast, cannot be avoided unless we all emigrate to another country and renounce our citizenship. Political corruption is when an individual uses the state for their personal benefit not for the benefit fo the common good. The phone hacking scandal is frightening and problematic for that reason because it attacks the core institutions of the country and it reveals, potentially, corruption within the institutions designed to keep all of us, not just the road users, safe.

    What does that mean? I mean that press organisations have hired private detectives and investigators to hack into the phones of senior ministers (John Prescott for example) and other senior politicians. In itself, this is troubling as it begins to get into the potential for political blackmail or other forms of coercion that subvert the democratic process. (To put it differently but directly, would we be safer in the UK with bad traffic laws or former East Germany with excellent traffic laws?) (Aristotle and the ancient Greeks understood the threat of a corrupt regime which is why the argued so strongly against it (One could say all of political philosophy is a response to the threat of a corrupt regime. However, I digress.)

    The challenge of phone hacking is the threat to general privacy, a needed basis for a free society (you need an arena free from the state’s direct supervision (yes indirectly it will be there in that we are all covered by the law) so that you are not asking the state if it is ok not to brush your teeth tonight). See for example:
    (here is a link to a spreadsheet behind the report:

    What compounds it is the allegation that the police, who are (and were) supposed to investigate it were complicit. The allegations are taht they somehow knew the journalists involved, or relied upon similar information, or were encouraged not to investigate. The research raises questions about democratic accountability, the rule of law, and the fundamental political rights in a decent society. Without these, none of us is free, and all of us are in danger.

    At one level, someone can say, well this is just politics. After all, the crimes that Nixon committed (the political intimidation, the break-ins, and the monitoring of political opponents) was occurring long before he came to office. He got caught and when he tried to cover it up, he broke the law. However, the underlying issue though, is whether that type of politics is acceptable and whether it leads us to a regime that is based upon politically corrupt practices. If a politician is unwilling to vote according to his constituents wishes, because of what has been found on his or her mobile phone, then democracy is being undermined. Or worse, if the politician acts only on behalf of financial interests (see the scandal that brought down a former illinois governor which did lead to deaths on the road. Political corruption, which the phone hacking scandal suggests exists, threatens us all.

    If politicians are potentially compromised by it and therefore unable to investigate it, which raises quesitons about democratic accountabililty. If parliament cannot investigate these issues, then who can? If parliament is cowed by its fear of disclosure what chance does an ordinary citizen have in such a regime? One wonders if it is better to take their chances on the road?

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