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…

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