Tuesday, 19 July 2011

"Wanters, not needers. Hypocrites and cheaters…

…this is the News of the World." 

So the Wildhearts wrote in 1993. It still seems remarkably prescient, with lyrics such as "We changed, we didn’t even try. We opened up our mouths, telling all those lies to ourselves… And everybody else." This seemingly speaks down the years for this whole sorry saga.

In the intervening 18 years, not much seems to have changed. The tabloids went about their dirty business, and in the words of one News of the World employee, "Lives were ruined." The only surprise is that it's taken this long for the politicians to stand up to the Murdoch empire, and for the public to actually give a crap.

Lots has happened in the last week or so. The Murdochs are appearing before parliament today to answer questions about the phone hacking scandal, as will Rebekah Brooks, who was arrested last week, along with Andy Coulson, the Prime Minister's ex-director of Communications, and a number of other senior figures. It's difficult to see how David Cameron can come out unscathed, so sullied he is by association with Coulson and Brooks.

The Commissioner and Deputy Commissioner of the Metropolitan police have resigned over the furore, as it has been alleged that journalists have been paying police for information. This brings the story into a wider realm, and out of a pure media focus. This is corruption, plain and simple, at the heart of the metropolitan police, politicians, and journalists.

These are the three estates which are supposed to support, to fight for the public, and we are supposed to go to them to sort out our problems. The journalists relied on the police for their information, the police seemed happy to take the odd back-hander for information, and cast a blind eye over the more nefarious activities in the press. And the whole time the politicians, afraid of what revelations the tabloid could spin about them, cosied up to Rupert Murdoch, allowing his values and ideas to suffuse their politics, until we appear to have three identikit parties, each run by a waxwork clone of each other (apart from Ed Miliband, who's played by Mr Bean).

As allegations pile upon allegations, which pile upon wrongdoing, almost to the height of the world trade centre, those fated towers could be the most significant part of the whole story, as it was announced that the CIA are investigating whether victims of the 9/11 attacks had their phones hacked. One private investigator has already come forward to state that journalists tried to get phone numbers of the victims from him, which he declined. This could end in the downfall of the Murdoch empire globally, as surely no-one will want to associate with a company capable of such things.

The sorry state of affairs is that through the collusion of politicians, the press, and the police, the public have lost their outlet, and their ability to influence politics, and if one good thing comes out of this, it's that the press will report on, rather than shape the political arena, that is the job of the people, and they can rediscover their voice.

Let's hope we're not "too far gone to change the mess we’re in."

Wednesday, 6 July 2011

Howling mad at Murdoch

I've been following the phone hacking scandal with interest since the Guardian broke the news back in 2009. Then there was the scandal with Andy Coulson, then PR director for the Conservative party. And still no-one cared. Of course, it was because they were targeting politicians and celebrities, and because they were in the public eye they kind of deserved it. I actually agreed with Hugh Grant (for the first and only time) that the right to privacy was a human right, and one that the papers were taking away by intercepting phone messages.

I kind of thought that they couldn't get much worse. But then came the revelations of the past few days, that the News of the World hacked into the mobile of a girl who had been abducted (and was most likely dead) in order to get a story. Now I studied Journalism at uni as part of my Media degree, and I knew that to be a tabloid journalist involved a set of rather flaky morals… It's why I chose not to pursue that career. But this is really beyond the pale…

At a time when the police were investigating a murder, the News of the World actively disrupted that investigation, and by deleting messages stored on the phone, gave the family false hope that their daughter was still alive.

And what's more, it gets worse. It appears that the News of the World hacked into the phones of the families of not only the girls murdered by Ian Huntley, but also the families of the victims of the 7th July bombings. All for a news story. I mean, other than intruding on the grief of people, what did they hope to achieve?

Rebakah Brooks, the Chief Exec of News Corporation, part of Rupert Murdoch's vast media empire says that it was 'inconceivable' that she knew anything about the allegations… I can only think of the scene from the Princess Bride where Vizzini repeatedly says "That's inconceivable!" and Inigo Montoya responds with "You keep using that word. I do not think it means what you think it means". Anyway, she was very clever with her words, neither confirming nor denying anything.

It was nice to see Jon Snow on Channel 4 news last night utterly skewer Simon Greenberg, the operating officer of News Int, who repeatedly assured him that Rebekah Brooks was the best person to take this forward and investigate it fully. Despite being in charge of the News of the World at the time.

The satirical website Newsthump sent this up far better than I could.

But why should we care? It's bad people doing bad things right? Well… Every government since Thatcher has had to gain the support of Rupert Murdoch (and his newspapers) to get into power. That's a fact. He aggressively promotes his own neo-liberal values, wanting a laissez faire approach to business, because that's what makes him the most money. And it has just been announced by David Cameron that he sees no problem whatsoever with Murdoch owning all of BSkyB.

As part of this deal, Murdoch promised make Sky News an 'independent' company.  But this is a farce: News Corp pays Sky News's bills, provide its satellite access, and is able to place loyalists on the board. Murdoch will therefore be able to cross-promote his services, have the Times (the biggest selling newspaper) promote Sky, having Sky cross-promote the Times, NOTW and the Sun, and so on. It's a massive blow for autonomy and media plurality.

But apart from anything else… The unethical and illegal behaviour of companies and organisations owned by Mr Murdoch show a massive failing in the senior management of News International, and an inability to control rogue staff. This has massive implications in a company that would potentially control a huge media and broadcasting empire, the likes of which the UK has never seen before.

It also has implications for the freedom of the press, and their ability to investigate a story. There's no doubt the government will come down hard on them for this, and restrict the ability of journalists to do their jobs. A free and inquiring press is what keeps governments and corporations honest. In this case, the greed of a corporation could lead to the downfall of the free press, and that's a very sad thing indeed. On a positive note, this could mean the end of politician having to play to the gallery of the tabloid press and actually get on with doing their job properly. Which would be nice.

But let's not forget, Murdoch and Rebekah Brooks created an atmosphere where journalists thought it fine to hack into the answerphone messages of a dead teenager, and of the grieving families of murder victims, let alone a plethora of politicians and celebrities. It makes me ashamed to be part of the media business, it really does…