By Mike Small
If the arrest of Rebekah Brooks yesterday is a ploy to confuse or interrupt parliamentary questions then the police are off the leash, and this denoument isn’t a media crisis but a constitutional one. We shall see. Or maybe we won’t.
After 30 years of tabloidisation it’s difficult to avoid the headline-writing: “It’s the Son Wot Won it”, “Gotcha” spring to mind as the nexus of corruption between celebrity culture, Metroplitan Police and the political elite slide effortlessly together in a deluge of sleaze. Not to worry. As one wag put it: “I don’t know what Rebekkah Wade and Andy Coulson have to worry about, according to their newspapers prisons are like five star hotels these days.”
But as the expenses scandal failed to sweep clean the Westminster establishment, serving only to fuel the bile of righteous Torygraph readers everywhere, the #Hackgate story has the potential to cleanse society of tabloid drivel and ‘expose relations’ – or – equally to disappear after a flash of media spectacle then slither away behind the next headlines.
Some are optimistic that won’t happen. Dougal Hind (think Justin Harkness meets Ivan Illich in a slim Cormac McCarthy novel) writes:
“The unravelling of the apparently invincible Murdoch empire feels like a dress rehearsal for the unravelling of much else.”
I hope he’s right, the problem is focusing exclsuively on Murdoch or NI as the bad guys and failing to see the wider problems they represent of patronage, lack of accountability, concentration of the ownership of media and deep duplicity and manipulation.
Henry Porter has written: “One of the more shaming aspects of the phone-hacking affair and all the intelocking circles of corruption and compromise is that they expose a huge failure in my generation, which has allowed Murdoch to emesh our politics, media and police. Even I have been astonished at the levels of penetration achieved – not just a man – Andy Coulson, beside the PM at Downing Street and Chequers before and after the election, but a former NotW executive discovered to be advising the head of the Met, just as the phone hacking scandal began to get serious. After the election nothing changed.”
Porter’s ‘astonishment’ aside there’s a great deal of nonsense being talked here. For speedsake here’s my top five:
1) Ed Miliband has ‘found his feet’, ‘risen to the challenge’ ‘is leading the charge’ (ad nauseam – any paper). To be honest if he hadn’t you’d have to say he’s more useless than anyone had previously suspected. He is following the public not leading it. Most of this analysis conveniently ignores the huge energy put into courting Murdoch by Blair, Brown and the whole New Labour project, of which he was a key player.
2) There’s somehow a deep divide between the print media (bad) and the broadcast media (good, true and independent). This is nonsense. There’s just a nexus of corporate media – with degrees of sleaze, inanity and uselessness at which the News of the World and The Sun operate at one end of the continuum.
3) This is all new. A revelation. This started at Wapping when the political classes cheered loudly – and Labour led the disavowal. Important consequences of the defeat of print unions in Wapping in 1985 was that Murdoch’s power grew and grew, unchecked by governments of either party, along wit associated rampant profiteering, vicious union-bashing and manipulating the political establishment. As Barry White (NUJ NEC London) puts it: “The law on union recognition must be changed if the balance of power at work is to be changed and ethical standards are to be enforced.” I’ve not seen a single report that makes the connection between Wapping and the present debacle.
4) The SNP are not blameless. Whilst BBC Scotland was playing political games issuing this yesterday – the fact remains whether nationalists like it or not – that the SNP corted the Sun prior to the Holyrood election. This site was alone in condemning this at the time.
5) There is no alternative. There’s no iron law that says we need these newspapers. The myth of the press and democracy is mostly written about in the dead tree media. In the 21st C the real legacy of Murdoch’s empire collapsing in on it’s own festering nest of lies may be the continued demise of newsprint, a 19th C form that has dominated and corrupted public life for too long.