Everything Stinks, But Nothing will Change, Except for the Worse..
Britain has, expenses scandal notwithstanding (which would make news in only a handful of countries), a pretty high standard of honesty in public life. Perhaps this is BECAUSE we have such a vile, unscrupulous, yet tenacious press? The Late & Unlamented ‘News of the Screws’ may be history, allowing the Dirty Digger to sell off a Leaner and more streamlined 7-day Sun Newspaper, as well as the venerable Times. Due to publicity and the greater bargaining power of management, Murdoch may get more than perhaps he could have expected even a few weeks ago.
But even the sale of The Sun and The Times changes little in the long run. The newspaper industry is dead. It doesn’t know it yet: the strongest brands may live on in mobile-device subscription and on the Internet, but the logistics of paper-delivery mean that lower circulation will lead to its eventual demise. It seems News International agrees: perhaps their strategy of putting their brands behind a pay-wall isn’t yet successful. It certainly remains a risk, one which Murdoch is happy to divest himself of. In order to allow the purchase British Sky Broadcasting without having to divest the potentially valuable Sky News, he’s prepared to sacrifice his papers. Before passing judgment, ask yourself: do you know more about global media than Rupert Murdoch? Me neither. His revealed preference is for Broadcast media over print. Sell Newspaper stock, all of it. Now.
The rest of Fleet Street? Well, News of the World and other NI titles weren’t even the worst papers. The Daily Mail is by far the worst – cheerfully breaking the law to get stories, with the Mirror, a paper read by Morons, second. The entire UK newspaper industry are all in a brutal pit-fight over readers and advertisers to keep a dying business-model going. I suspect that results – juicy stories which sold papers – resulted in a “See no evil” approach from senior management. Thus even if Coulson and Brooks had plausible deniability, it was the result of a degree of negligence which left them culpable, but not criminally so. With different media interest, this would be a “punish the perps, move on…” story. So why is this such a big scandal? The fact is the removal of the powerful operator, News International, from the UK media scene benefits a lot of people, in particular opposition politicians and competitive media organisations. Even the Police benefit from keeping the focus on News Corp and away from themselves.
So what of the ethics of the BBC? Well, they’re stoking the outrage. That they are the cleanest of the media organisations appears not to be in doubt, but they are protective of their dominant media position in the UK. The Former Director General put his name to a letter demanding that News Corporation be prevented from buying Sky. Why would they risk getting involved publicly in an issue in which there’s such a clear conflict of interest? Only Sky News can challenge their dominant, agenda-setting position. It is the BBC who decide which stories are News and which aren’t. As a result, the agenda of the Metropolitan Left gets a more dominant airing than its popularity in the country warrants, and it’s jealously guarding this power. This explains the foaming-at-the-mouth seen in leftist circles whenever you mention News International. The leftists don’t want an organisation with a different world view which challenges the cosy consensus, as a Sky News which enjoyed the full backing and resources of News International would.
The police, whose alacrity in investigating earlier allegations of media impropriety was conspicuous in its absence. It is possible that they had greater priorities at the time (Sir Iain Blair’s defence in committee this morning), but it is more likely they knew it would uncover embarrassing levels of corruption and collusion with the media. The police don’t come out of this at all well, so focusing public ire on a big bad fat cat suits them. They’re more than happy to investigate Brooks and Coulson if it keeps the inquests away from their door.
Now the Labour party is also seeking political advantage. Hilariously, because they’d been in power when the story happened for a decade, they were just as completely in bed with Murdoch’s media empire. For Gordon Brown (who employed such charming people as Damian McBride) to allege that he’d refused to play ball, and that is why he lost the 2010 election is vile. Absurd. Awful. Now it’s alleged that he planted the story about his son’s Cystic Fibrosis to make him more human, and counter-alleged that The Sun bullied him into the exclusive. Either way Brown doesn’t come out of this well. He’s either disgustingly cynical, or a spineless gimp who backs down when bullied. For Brown’s drippy homunculus, Milliband minor, to attempt to Jump on the Bandwagon, temporarily successful though it may be, is, will be exposed for the hypocrisy it is.
There’s little doubt that in egregious lawlessness, the News of the World may be different qualitatively if not quantitatively to the rest. However, this is a big story because of its closeness to the current Executive. However, that closeness ended 6 months ago when Cameron fired Coulson/Coulson quit. So Cameron is keeping a low profile, standing by his friends, but saying little. I can’t see the shit sticking to him.
For this reason, the left, and the Labour party (outside its top echelons) who’ve long loathed Rupert Murdoch as an ideological enemy, and are crowing that his influence in the UK media is waning, may be as disappointed as they are with the effect on the Tories. News International already own 39% British Sky Broadcasting and have effectively a controlling stake. If they divest themselves of the Sun and Times, then the competition commission can ONLY conclude that there is no risk to Media Plurality of the News International bid. Indeed, because it challenges the dominance of the BBC, this can only be POSITIVE in this regard. This leaves the OfCom test of whether Murdoch is “Fit and Proper”. The evidence is that his titles are no worse than the Daily Mail. So. Murdoch will get Sky because there’s nothing except public outrage keeping him from doing so, if The Times and The Sun get new owners. Nothing else will change and nor should it; we are, after all ruled not by the baying mob, stoked up by self-serving competitors, but by the rule of law. Either Murdoch will get British Sky Broadcasting, or the UK is a mere ochlocracy whose mob is being turned on a striken competitor by a hyperventilating media. Mmmm. Mob rule. Grrrreat.
By the time the judicial enquiries submit their reports this will be yesterday’s news, and their recommendations will be implemented half-heartedly – if at all, unless the politicians see an oportunity to remove scrutiny by over-regulation. Only they will gain by further regulating the media. It’s the press’s job to hold politicians and others in public office to account. Does anyone deny the British Press do this better than many other countries’ media industries? Their having overstepped the mark in doing so is less dangerous than politicians overstepping the mark in holding the press to account. If there’s new media regulation, I cannot see this being for anyone’s good except for the elite who get less scrutiny. Where does that lead? Yes. France.
I hope the Politicians do nothing about Hackgate, because the likely alternatives to doing nothing are much worse.
Excellent piece Jackart
Very well written. I agree wholeheartedly.
"we are, after all ruled not by the baying mob, stoked up by self-serving competitors, but by the rule of law"
Update. Murdoch withdraws bid.
It turns out we are not ruled by the rule of law after all, but by the baying mob, stoked up by self-service competitors. And by vengeful politicians who want to return to the trough, but this time with nobody watching or checking.
We will end up with the BBC triumphant, and a shackled press.
I deplore this as much as you do.
If the Fit & Proper test can be passed by a company which has spent the last decade flouting every law and ethical standard imaginable, then it isn't much of a test, is it?