By Elliot Adams
I was going to wait until after reading the News of the World‘s final issue before weighing in on the latest batch of News International’s wrong-doing, very bravely taking shots at the things everyone else already hates. But even without the normal parade of witch-hunts, libel and outing of people’s sex lives the ‘Screws of the World has become famous for – it is junk food news, cheap to produce but devoid of any real content; I just can’t bring myself to do it.
The way NI have been addressing the situation has been reprehensible, and it is this that I want to now gripe on about. Putting aside for a moment allegations about the bribing of police officers and hacking into the private communications of union leaders, victims of terrorist bombings, fallen soldiers and murdered schoolgirls(in one instance leading her parents to believe she was still alive). Admittedly this is a fairly large aside, a fast stream of feculent ordure that threatens to choke News International, and the police, the Prime Minister and the self-regulated free press along with them – it is not called the gutter press for nothing.
There’s been a fervour to the hyperbolic coverage from the NotW‘s contemporaries; some bemoaned ‘The End of the World’ and its passage to the gallows, perhaps feeling that the mob could call for their own sacrifice in time. Others were shouting down the foul recreant with revolutionary zeal, a link Henry Porter made explicit in The Observer:
A lightning revolt with a whiff of the Arab Spring about it … a feeling of liberation at the end of this highly charged week and we can say that our society seems better off: our political system is freer and, I would suggest, a little bit cleaner; relations between the media, politicians and the public have changed for good.
While I agree that politicians have been given a scare with regards to how they cosy up to figures like Murdoch, the current situation is more akin to the Terror in Revolutionary France; conspiracies(both real and imagined) are rife and heads are rolling, but all the wrong ones. (Alongside Clive Goodman)David Cameron’s former director of communications Andy Coulson has been fired, arrested and fired again – but so far he is an exception. Though it has rapidly become apparent that the ‘one rouge reporter’ defence was about as silly as it sounded, executives, managers and editors calling the shots have remained safe while hacks, photographers and office workers at the NotW are put out of work. It seems they are being sacrificed on behalf of a what James Murdoch freely admits was as failure of NI corporate governance.
In a structure based heavily on top-down authority it makes no sense for accountability to stop on the ground floor. Even with those who indulged in phone-hacking, you can’t expect a tabloid hack to have the self-awareness to critique the editorial guidance of his corporate overlords, these are pitiful creatures that think ‘ethics’ is a county just north of London. If they were not so blessed with the complete absence of self-awareness the job’s suicide rate would be atrocious, every day the clattering of keyboards would be punctuated by the sad thud of heads on desks as the pentobarbital takes effect, while James Murdoch whirrs past in a street sweeper keeping the aisles clear of corpses.
Maybe I am being too quick to judge though, Rebekah Brooks claims it is “inconceivable that [she] knew or worse, sanctioned these appalling [actions]
allegations” well there you have it, literally incon-fucking-ceivable. There is no way anyone could conceive of a bizarro world where the head of a major newspaper would have any awareness of what was being published in said newspaper or where those stories had come from. Clearly those at the helm of NotW are the victims of some kind of cruel prank where they’ve been tricked into thinking that they were running a newspaper, are they entitled to compensation perhaps?
Likewise Brooks and Coulson are misunderstood on the allegation that they bribed the police for information. Now admittedly they did both inadvertently confess to this in front of a Culture, Media and Sports Select Committee hearing. But when asked if they would do so again Coulson was very clear;
We operate within the code and within the law and if there is a clear public interest then we will.
That’s reassuring, ‘within the law’. Clearly not the law we’ve had for centuries about not making payment to a police officer acting within his duty, but another law – perhaps the one outlawing wearing a suit of armour in the Houses of Parliament. So really News International is a paragon of truth and virtue.
The spontaneous closure of the News of the World was seen by many as a virtuous move, doing the right thing by falling on their sword, but the cynic in me finds this unlikely. Last week, News Corporation posted a press release announcing a new “managing editor structure” at its newspapers in a move towards integration of daily and Sunday publications. To this end, a group managing editor position was created with responsibility over both The Sun and News of the World and News of the World‘s managing editor Bill Akass was to be moved to a safe regulatory executive position.
We will take a comprehensive look at where there is common ground across our titles and where we should remain unique. Where there is common ground we will find ways of implementing efficiencies to editorial systems and processes and, where appropriate, we will find ways of introducing seven day working.
Clearly News Corporation were already planning on merging their daily and Sunday titles, is it really a stretch to see this as evidence that the death of NotW was also planned before all this kicked off anyway?
I disagree with the notion that NotW was a toxic influence that had to be killed off before it tainted Murdoch’s fitness to takeover BskyB, there’s plenty evidence that another of NI’s rags the Sun is also tainted by the phone-hacking scandal. Even if there wasn’t, the Sun is currently waiting to hear if they’ll be prosecuted for breaching contempt of court laws in their reporting of Joanna Yeates’ murder – so hardly a ‘clean’ example of NI’s responsibility. NotW‘s closure was merely expedient.
Some have speculated that the plan has long been to replace NotW with a superficially different Sun on Sunday title. I would not be surprised if this is the case, nor would I be particularly shocked if the News of the World made a comeback in a familiar form in a couple of years time. The simple fact of the matter is that Murdoch has a metric fuckton of money and influence enough to have king-making powers in UK politics. Unless the government curbs his influence, this is not going to change any time soon. To some in the media, the 7th of July may have been “a lightning revolt” reminiscent of the Arab spring, for some politicians it was the day they re-evaluated their relations with the media, but Murdoch is media-concentration incarnate, to him it was just Thursday.
Politician Bites Watchdog
Ed Miliband seems to understand the situation a lot better than Cameron. Gone is the simpering replicant who somehow got stuck in a loop during an interview 9 days ago, he hasn’t gone to war with Murdoch, but he has been uncompromising in seeking an independent solution to the mess his company has left in it’s wake.
Apparently ignoring the rumoured threats of a lifetime cut-off of support for labour policy from News Corp titles, Miliband has passionately pushed for Brook’s resignation and a delay or cancellation for Murdoch’s BskyB bid until an criminal investigation is complete or it is deferred to the competition commission – threatening to force the issue to a vote if necessary.
This is not necessarily to his credit though, he has less to lose because Cameron’s courtship of Murdoch was far more successful than his. Team Cameron has spent years getting News International to play for them, the linking of interests between the Conservative Party and NI was the product of endless negotiating, secretive dinner meetings, promises to abolish Ofcom and scale back the BBC, and quaffing wine in exotic villas. Ultimately I think the clincher was the link Cameron trusted route to Murdoch through Brooks via her disgraced – and newly employed by the Tories – friend Andy Coulson. Ever since Murdoch’s papers have served the interests of the Conservative party, even supporting the Scottish Nationalist Party who provide a softer resistance to Tory policies north of the border.
Miliband’s has had no chance at wooing Murdoch, whereas David Cameron couldn’t be more ‘in’ with News International right now unless Murdoch buried his gentleman’s region testes-deep inside him, which would be about as uncomfortable for Cameron as he appears to be now anyway. Dave is tethered to NI and so has been flopping about defending Andy Coulson while condemning his actions, spitting soundbites criticising vague notions of something wrong in the UK media while constantly on running from talking about his own involvement with problematic media figures – he is loud and showboating but directionless, a rodeo clown afraid of his own Bull.
Hence Cameron’s distraction tactic of attacking the Press Complaints Commission. It is true that the PCC’s initial response to phone-hacking in 2009 was insubstantial and not enough attention was given to the evidence revealed by The Guardian, but it has since become obvious that they were intentionally misled and the PCC have withdrawn their report from that time. Hindsight is always 20/20, but prior to this past few weeks even the police thought the matter was confined to a small number of celebrities. If the police and James Murdoch himself both could not accurately assess the scale of the problem with their greater access to evidence, how then can Cameron claim that the self-regulation apparatus of the PCC should have done?
Those calling for stronger regulation than the PCC can provide seem to be forgetting that these acts were against the law, there have been arrests and those responsible may face prison sentences – is illegality and the full force of law not ample regulation?
It seems to me like there is a drive building off Cameron’s statements for MPs to castigate journalism as a whole for recent events. I find it difficult to listen to MPs pontificating on the failings of the press without ever acknowledging New Labour’s part in the cementing Murdoch’s power or these Thatcherite-lite conservatives courting that same power.
The PCC has its failings and we have long needed a way to address the concentration of media ownership. But it should be remembered that it was a journalist applying all the bounds of good practice who exposed these latest scandals. The PCC has helped resolve a constant supply of complaints at no cost, free speech and good practice are protected by independent self-regulation, but are also fostered by it. Nick Davies and other ‘Guardian journalists have been exemplar in applying a meticulously accurate scrutiny to the News of the World. This very process has been a shining example of media plurality prevailing over media concentration and of the industry regulating itself independent of government control.