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Alive, from London

I'm a great admirer of Britain and the British way of doing things. I've praised the surgical swiftness with which defeated PMs move out of 10 Downing Street, delighted in royal nomenclature and protocol, this April's wedding and declared Britain the most truly multi-cultural country in the world. Karan Thapar writes.

columns Updated: Jul 23, 2011 22:40 IST

Let me begin with a frank admission: I'm a great admirer of Britain and the British way of doing things. I've praised the surgical swiftness with which defeated PMs move out of 10 Downing Street, delighted in royal nomenclature and protocol, this April's wedding and declared Britain the most truly multi-cultural country in the world. Today I intend to go further. We, in India, must learn from the British how to tackle a bloody awful mess.

There are three aspects of the Murdoch affair that stand out. First, the response of the British press. The true horror of the News of The World's behaviour was revealed by the meticulous, relentless and determined efforts of The Guardian and the BBC. In doing so, they did not hesitate to criticise or take names. When it came to exposing politicians, journalists did not cavil at telling Prime Minister David Cameron on live television that he had "screwed-up". And he took it on the chin.

In contrast, when the Niira Radia tapes or paid news was the big story, we were defensive, reluctant to question leave aside expose our colleagues and the affected channels/papers simply battened down the hatches. The storm may have eventually blown away but the dust has not settled. And when we attempt to toughly question the PM, he's either unavailable or his protective advisors step in and shut us up. What's worse, we do.

Next, the response of the British prime minister and Parliament. For us, in India, this was almost unbelievable. Cameron made himself available to face all the criticism, both at press conferences and in the Commons. He clearly did not convince everyone but he had the courage and conviction to explain his behaviour, accept his lapses and order full-fledged inquiries. Can you imagine Manmohan Singh attempting anything even remotely similar?

The performance of the British Parliament was equally striking. Wednesday's debate was vigorous and passionate but never disorderly. Not only did the Speaker effectively control the House but not one MP challenged his authority. And the quality of the questions and speeches was riveting. In fact, the forensic questioning at the parliamentary committees was, at times, devastating. Always polite but also persistent, MPs grilled the police chief and the Murdochs. We long for something similar on the floor of the Lok Sabha but, sadly, in vain.

Finally, the response from the Murdochs. No doubt many see them as villains who remain unrepentant. They've erred grievously and have a lot to answer for. Their explanations remain woefully incomplete. And, in fact, many intensely dislike them. But pause and consider for a moment the steps they've taken.

They've shut down a 168-year-old profitable newspaper. They've repeatedly apologised, even taking out advertisements in rival papers. And, despite some silences, neither father nor son was unimpressive under interrogation by inquisitorial MPs. When confronted with a similar crisis, how many of our captains of industry would emerge so resilient?

We can't even say that the mess Britain has to clean up is worse than anything we've faced. Surely the cash-for-votes scam was at least as bad? It involved the government, MPs of several parties and the media. It attacked the very core of our democracy. But while we've accepted the stink and stain or swept the memory out of our minds, Britain is trying to get to the bottom its crisis. They may not fully succeed but it's the effort and sincerity that counts. We, it seems, couldn't care less.

The views expressed by the author are personal