2010s >> 2011 >> no-1284-august-2011
Greasy Pole: Hacking? Who’s hacking?
“Sundays won’t be the same again,” whined the Political Editor. Or rather the ex-political editor of the abruptly defunct, paedophilia-hounding, police officer-corrupting, phone-hacking, record-circulating News Of The World. No more blearily turning the pages for a weekly dose of insight into the chaotic privacy of a select few handily grouped under the shield of celebrity. No more envious excursions into a growingly denser jungle where the more luxurious the undergrowth the larger the financial profit. Never the same again? Are there any who would be ungrateful for such a small mercy? Even accepting that it came swaddled in breathtaking hypocrisy?
The earlier reaction to Rupert Murdoch ending the News Of The World was that it was the tycoon’s punitive response to the exposure of the paper’s habitual intrusion into the private lives of anyone liable to be regarded as newsworthy through hacking into their telephones. However within an hour or so a more acceptable explanation came onto the scene. For some years Murdoch’s News International had been manoeuvring to take over the 61 percent of shares it does not hold in BSkyB, which is estimated to yield them some £1 billion profit during the next financial year. It seemed like good balance-sheet sense to help this process by surrendering the News Of The World’s comparatively modest £12 million annual profit – apart from the prospect of the tighter binding of Murdoch’s relationship with the Tory and Labour leaderships, with all that promises in terms of future concessions for his media machine. It is a long time since political leaders have operated with no regard for the ambitions of that fearsome magnate. A long time since a Prime Minister has omitted to invite Murdoch and his underlings to one of those regularly sickening ventures intro terrified sycophancy among the lawns and terraces of Chequers. And, until the events of recent weeks, it was promising to be a long time before that situation changed.
In essence it was a simple strategy. The party leadership and their advisers paid heed to the prejudices, fears and misconceptions which were stimulated by, and advantageous to, the Murdoch operation and calculated that these could be applied to their electoral advantage. In other words, the Murdoch empire could win elections – a theory which might be said to have fitted in with events in this way:
1969 Murdoch buys the News Of The World and the Sun, revamped from the successor to the old Daily Herald.
1979 The Tories under Margaret Thatcher and supported by the Sun win the general election against an exhausted and demoralised Labour Party.
1981 Thatcher’s government supports Murdoch’s recently formed News Corporation bid to buy the Times and the Sunday Times – with the predictable guarantees of “editorial independence”.
1983 After surviving a number of problems during their early days in power the Tories win an emphatic majority, helped by patriotic hysteria over the Falklands war, marked by the full-page headline in the Sun screaming GOTCHA! over the sinking of the Belgrano.
1987 Another Tory election win, with a majority reduced probably in reaction to Thatcher’s impending replacement by John Major
1992 John Major, struggling against the Eurosceptics “bastards” in his party, notches up an unexpected election victory. The Sun helps him on his way by devoting its front page to a request that in the event of Neil Kinnock’s Labour winning “…will the last person to leave Britain…turn out the lights”. Then crows that “It was the Sun wot won it.”
1997 With the Tories descending into a confusion of sleaze, economic chaos and scandal Murdoch joins forces with his persistently loyal friend Tony Blair and his party and Labour win the election in a landslide.
2010 After Murdoch defects to support the Tories, Gordon Brown’s Labour Party loses the election, replaced by a fractious Coalition.
2011 As the hacking scandal breaks into the open previous assumptions about electoral alliances, governmental stability – and the influence of the Murdoch clan – need to be re-assessed.
That ex-Political Editor told us why he grieved at the closing of the News Of The World: “Villains, paedophiles and corrupt politicians will be able to sleep more soundly now that the greatest investigative newspaper on Earth has gone.” He did not mention that such newspapers work so devotedly to unearth their scoops in the cause of higher sales, advertising revenue and investment – or that in that process a significant clutch of criminals and corrupt politicians are enabled to stay active. One investor in News Corporation, the Church of England, held £4 million worth of shares overseen by a body incongruously known as the Ethical Investment Advisory Group which described the News Of The World’s hacking campaign as “utterly reprehensible and unethical”. Compared to that, and in the present crisis in the industry, the advice of Murdoch’s favourite son James, chairman of News International, to the 2009 Edinburgh Television Festival, that “the only guarantee of independence is profit” reads as more illuminating and useful – if menacing. Among the terrified hysteria of Westminster, the panic of laggardly journalists and manipulatory police officers, the figures – an expectation of £135 million a year circulation revenue, £38 million advertising income, and, if the bid for BSkyB succeeded there would be an additional £1.6 billion a year – carried more weight than the exotically titled, smugly gambling excuses of the clerics. The simple fact is that what we know as the media, in all its forms, is no different in its need to conform to the rules and demands of a commodity society. Unavoidably, politicians saw it as a priority to foster such ambitions in the assumption that come the next election it would yield a rich harvest of votes. The sudden flooding of these facts into what is known as ‘the public domain’ provoked widespread outrage. Another example of the urgency for the ‘public’ to react in a proper, reparative manner.