Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Lilliputians Question Murdoch

My initial thoughts on the much anticipated appearance of the Murdochs before the Commons Culture Committee are on the TRG's Egremont blog.

Monday, July 18, 2011

Sun Hacking Continues

In amongst the escalating scalps and the tragedy of a dead reporter, the hacking of News International has taken a new turn with the Sun's own website being hacked this evening, thanks to the mysterious twitterfeed of The Lulz Boat. Their original replacement site was this story (courtesy of our old friends at Media Watch) about Murdoch's death, which proved so popular that it crashed! Now they've just redirected to their twitter feed, with such ditties as: We have joy, we have fun, we have messed up Murdoch's Sun.

Sometimes hacking can be really worthwhile!

Sunday, July 10, 2011

The Last News of the World

I did wonder whether to buy a copy of the last News of the World. It would also have been the first copy I ever bought too, and in readiness I glanced across its online pages this morning, to see what I would be getting in my last, closing down souvenir issue. The headline, "Thankyou and Goodbye" is a fair enough one, running across a montage of previous front pages. I could then have read about ""Harry's Flo looking good in drag", seen a celebration of "page three cheers - the very breast pics", read about "Michelle's Huge Parts", read an article about Coronation Street's sliding ratings or examined "Kelly's slinky legs" at my pleasure. It wasn't difficult to keep my cash in my pocket and forego the dubious pleasure of a last News of the World.

I did check out one further part of the website - the 47 page collection of their best front pages, and as I was reading these, I realised how much better our Sundays will be without this tawdry, gossip mongering, sleazy newspaper. It is sad, certainly, that 200 people have suddenly lost their jobs. But Sunday after Sunday the News of the World has served us up a diet that appeals to the very lowest common denominator of taste, purveying a content that matches in tawdriness the methods it has - apparently - often used to obtain it.

There may well be a new, equally bad newspaper to take the News of the World's place and titillate its 7.5 million readers, but for the next few weeks at least Sunday mornings in Britain are very slightly more uplifting without it.

Thursday, July 07, 2011

Farewell to the Screws

Great piece by Steven Baxter - ex of SGS - on the New Statesman blog about the News of the World's demise. Baxter points out that the 'Screws' owes its destruction to a culture that it has itself helped to create and maintain - the "do something now even if we don't know all the facts" culture. It's a pretty devastating indictment of the levels to which the tabloid journalism espoused by the 'Screws' has fallen:

We don't know what the outcome will be of various investigations, inquiries and hearings, including the one overseen by Brooks herself at News International. But people couldn't wait for all that to unfold: they demanded something be done now. If they jumped the gun and jumped to conclusions based on limited evidence, they were only acting the way they had been taught to by the News of the World itself.

He goes on to elaborate:

"We will be passing our dossier to the police." Those words appeared at the end of News of the World investigations down the years, implying that readers should infer guilt on the part of whichever ne'er-do-well was being investigated that week, their wrongdoings exposed thanks to secret recording or other "dark arts". It created a culture in which an allegation became proof, a culture in which readers were invited to leap to conclusions. If people have done so this week, the News of the World can hardly condemn such behaviour.

It may be the methods rather than the substance of the News of the World's type of journalism that has caused its downfall, but as Baxter's article shows only too clearly, it is not always possible to separate the two. The News of the World may not have quite destroyed itself, but its parent, News International, is beginning like Saturn to consume its own children, and who knows where that might end.

News of the World Closure

The stunning announcement that the News of the World will close after this Sunday's edition is a far more nuclear announcement than was being anticipated from News International. It is extraordinary, and many will assume that it is only right that a paper now so sullied should fold. Perhaps it even sends a salutary message. The News of the World was Britain's best selling daily, and it has not proved immune from the ramifications of its wrong-doing. It is, it seems, a stunning victory for the forces of good.

And yet. The extraordinary announcement manages to leave a bitter taste in the mouth. After all, no-one is claiming that it is the paper's current leadership and reporters who have been responsible for the scandals currently engulfing it. The current investigations relate to an ethos and practice that dates back to at least 2002, and the person who was responsible for setting that paper's standards, as the editor, was Rebekah Brooks, now the person presiding over News International itself. There will not be wanting people to ask why the 'clean' current editor of the News of the World should be sacrificed when the person who was actually editor at the time remains in post.

Some of us may welcome the closure of a tabloid which has long been an embarrassment to British journalism. But the dramatic closure of the newspaper still doesn't cleanse the owning organisation of all the problems surrounding it, and Ms. Brooks' continuing leadership position will hardly reassure those who want to see proper rectification take place. It beggars belief that News International can now appear unsullied when the woman who has presided over its worst excesses - whether knowledgeably or not - remains in position. Closure of a newspaper has not provided closure of the issue.

A Tale of Our Times

Hubris, it seems, comes to everyone in time, even apparently invulnerable and all conquering media magnates. Or so it must seem to anyone observing the News International saga at the moment. For years Rupert Murdoch has bestrode the British political scene. Unencumbered by the menial requirements of mere voters such as British citizenship or the need to pay taxes he has wielded more power and influence over prime ministers and putative prime ministers than any British citizen. His editors have been the satraps of his power, the unelected viziers demanding their preferred politics from timid, beleaguered politicians.

How things have changed. Like many revolutions, this one has been boiling under the surface for years but has suddenly, and largely without warning, burst onto the scene. In so doing, it is not only changing the way in which things are being done, but shedding an illuminating light on the darker corners of the British polity.

On changes, Steve Richards in a trenchant piece for the Independent today, remarks upon the extraordinary scenes of once fearful MPs lining up to attack the Murdoch empire, and his key henchmen and women, in the Commons. Richards' piece is a fine and glorious read, suitably over the top and biting towards the malign influence of News International over the years. And, of course, not one that would have been written any time before, say, the day before yesterday!

Few institutions emerge with much credit from this sorry affair. The bulk of the newspaper establishment failed to produce any sort of investigation of its own - only the Guardian stands as a beacon of virtue in this regard, and we can only guess at the pressure it had to withstand both within and without the incestuous media establishment. The Press Complaints Commission remains a vapid eunuch incapable of action against its own. The political classes, repeatedly confronted with the excesses of tabloid reporting, cravenly failed to take any stand against them. Only now, as the giant falls, are they starting to run towards it kicking and punching. The role of the Metropolitan Police is particularly murky, itself the subject of a potential investigation. Quick to leap into action against politicians, they have proved remarkably more sluggish in pursuing News International. And our leading politicians, the men who would be premier, have been most shabby of all. From Tony Blair to Ed Miliband, the pursuit of the Australian magnate's favour has been a ludicrous sideshow of lilliputian proportions. Richards describes Blair's flight to join Murdoch's executives at short notice; Cameron employed Andy Coulson and wines and dines Rebekah Brooks; even Ed Miliband saw fit to attend Murdoch's summer bash this year, and employs former Murdoch man Tom Baldwin as his press secretary.

The press wields huge power even now on the political discourse of this nation, and consequently on the decisions taken by our political leaders. It also, more nefariously, has the ability - which it exercises - to destroy the reputations of individuals big and small. Such are the libel laws of the land that it rarely needs to apologise for its often grievous errors. It can ruin people at the stroke of a pen and never need to pick it up again for a further apologetic motion. And apparently, up to now, it has employed illegal means to intrude on private individuals' space and emotions with impunity. It has demanded the hide of erring politicians, but the erring leaders of News International now simply slink into the dark corners of their unfathomable citadels.

Will there actually be justice? Will Murdoch, Brooks, Coulson and the rest of the merry band finally face the come-uppance they so readily demand of others? The limp and belated response of David Cameron and others hardly suggests so, although the sound and fury of other MPs in the Commons yesterday may indicate the backlash to come. But justice, in this instance, will be more than an inquiry or two into News International. It demands a wholesale review of the way in which our press conducts itself, and no more tip-toeing around the need for proper oversight here as elsewhere.

One of David Cameron's predecessors, Stanley Baldwin, under pressure from Lord Beaverbrook - the Murdoch of his day - commented that the press "had power without responsibility; the prerogative of the harlot throughout the ages". He highlighted journalism at its lowest point. What it could, and should be, is summed up in a fine sentiment by Peter Oborne in today's "Spectator":

Unfortunately, we in Fleet Street have forgotten that the ultimate vindication of journalism is not to intrude into, and destroy, private lives. Nor is it the dance around power, money and social status. It is the fight for truth and decency.

If this spat means journalism returns to fighting for truth and decency, rather than the tawdry intrusion into private lives, then we may have recovered something good from this after all.