Saturday, 9 July 2011

The week that changed everything

Well, what a week it has been.

A media frenzy, a whole host of disgusting and shocking revelations, the Murdoch empire shook like never before, all culminating in the closure of the News of the World, one of Britain's oldest and most popular Sunday papers.

It all kicked off with the horrifying revelation by the Guardian newspaper that journalists at NotW had hacked into the voicemail of murdered young girl Milly Dowler in an attempt to harvest exclusive stories. They had also deleted messages to make room for more, giving Milly's family false hope that she might still have been alive. The whole country reeled in outrage and abhorrence at the fact that even this most gutter-dwelling of tabloids could sink so low. But yet, sink so low it did.

Then the stories started following one after the other at a breakneck pace, like a line of dominoes. Not only Milly Dowler, but, allegedly, families of 7/7 victims and fallen soldiers. Beforehand, the hacking scandal had involved only politicians and celebrities. Now, however, ordinary people, and, moreover, ordinary people who had suffered unimaginable pain, were drawn into the sorry situation.

What have been the results of this scandal? Well, on the 7th July, James Murdoch announced that this Sunday's edition of News of the World would be the last. And just like that, a 168-year-old stalwart of Fleet Street was no more, dismissed as "toxic", killed by the empire of the man who had bought it back in 1969.

I lament the fact the 200 innocent journalists, not to mention the cleaning staff, engineers and many more, will now lose their jobs. And they lose their jobs in vain. They lose their jobs because Rupert Murdoch wants to save his son's human shield - Rebekah Brooks, editor of NotW when Milly Dowler's phone was hacked (although she, of course, was on holiday at the time). However, I do not lament the passing of NotW as a newspaper. It is, or was, a disgusting, misogynistic, racist, homophobic, backward-thinking excuse of a rag, which had a malign influence on British journalism and the country in general. And as for its crusading moral agenda and fierce campaigns for justice?  Give me a break. Nothing but money-spinners. These points were all excellently made by actor Steve Coogan on last night's explosive Newsnight, where he tore former NotW features editor, Paul McMullen, to shreds. I, for one, am happy this "newspaper" will no longer be with us (in its present form, at least. As we know, the "Sun on Sunday" will so be upon us).

I am also happy that, after arguably the most disastrous week of his leadership, Ed Miliband has taken a principled stand on the issue. Bravely, he renounced News International and called for the resignation of Rebekah Brooks long before any other party leader. He took a new step in the right direction. His party members (myself among them) and the general public applauded him for his strong stance throughout the week. But News International will not forget this, and they will make Ed pay. So far as I'm concerned, it's a price worth paying.

Ever since Margaret Thatcher sold her soul (well, that's assuming she had a soul to sell) to Murdoch back in the 80s, the octogenarian Australian has been far too dominant a force in British politics. Foolishly, politicians believed they could only win general elections if his papers supported them. As a consequence, a mass exercise in arse-kissing swept Westminster, with MPs lining up to tell Good Ol' Rupe what a swell guy he was, in the hope of an invitation to one of his swanky dinners. In short, the press and the politicians became too close, a fact admitted by David Cameron at a press conference earlier in the week (important to note: he himself is good friends with Murdoch and Brooks). Now, however, things look to be changing. For the first time in decades, politicians actually want to distance themselves from the Murdoch brand. The Dark Overlord's power is waning.

But it's not just MPs at fault. The tenacious and laudable work of the Guardian has also laid bare the breathtakingly widespread and high-profile corruption of the Metropolitan Police. We have learnt that officers accepted bribes from people working for NotW in return for confidential information. This, of course, is unacceptable, and it raises the old question: quis custodiet ipsos custodes?

What we now need and what we thankfully are getting, is a judge-led, public inquiry into the NotW scandal, alongside one into the practices and ethics of Fleet Street. One into the Met is also essential. It seems, moreover, that the useless Press Complaints Commission is to be shut down - but to be replaced with what? We have seen that self-regulation of the press has failed miserably. I do not want to live in a country with statutory regulation of newspapers, but something must be done. What that something is is not yet clear.

The biggest thing to come from all of this, is, I feel, the great shift in public mood to Rupert Murdoch. This week's events have made him the most vulnerable he has ever been in his long professional career. He was forced to close the newspaper he first bought when he came to Britain in 1969. Many people working for him have been arrested, not to mention former No. 10 director of communications, Andy Coulson. His close friend Rebekah Brooks is also to be questioned by the police. His own son and heir apparent could face criminal charges on both sides of the Atlantic. His treasured and long-desired takeover of BSkyB is in dangerous shape, with the bid looking like it may be referred to Ofcom, who will decide if News International is a "fit and proper person" to own the broadcasting company (it manifestly is not). For the first time in a quite a while, politicians are not acting like his puppets. And, perhaps most importantly, the public have turned against him (as far as NotW is concerned anyway - the withdrawal of advertising due to the public backlash was what lead to its demise).

Will this anti-NotW sentiment transfer to the rest of his company? I hope so, but only time will tell. Rupert Murdoch is an immensely powerful and wealthy figure, seemingly lacking any sort of moral compass. I do not, as some do, think he has made a good contribution to British journalism. Yes, he can generate money and has a knack for making papers commercially viable. I'm sure he'd do well on The Apprentice. But I believe between them, him and Thatcher are the two worse things to happen to this country for a long, long time. I would urge everyone who wants to live in a pluralistic and truly democratic nation, where MPs are not ruled by filthily rich media barons and where police officers are not bribed by spineless hacks, to boycott everything that man owns. This week has shown that, when the public mood is strong enough, even the rich and powerful are defeatable. Together, we can stop Rupert Murdoch.

And I leave with you this marvellous Fry & Laurie sketch...


1 comment:

Life@Cee said...

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