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Atonement

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.

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  1. Tocasaid says:

    “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.” Ho-ho!

    Regarding the SNP, they won in ’97 despite the over the top doomsaying of the Sun. Would their support or otherwise have made any difference this year? While I can appreciate that we have to see the bigger picture, surely there are some lines we don’t cross on the road to independence?

  2. Observer says:

    Important consequences of the defeat of print unions in Wapping in 1985 was that Murdoch’s power grew and grew
    ————————————-
    Of course it did he was Thatcher’s best mate.

    There is a totally stomach churning article in the Grauniad from Jonathan Powell claiming that Labour had to court Murdoch, the press were too strong for them to break, which is drivel. By 1997 Labour could have put a chimpanzee up for election as the next PM, & even if Murdoch’s papers had printed a sex scandal about it or claimed it had eaten a hamster that chimpanzee would have been elected because the tide had turned against the Tories.

    New Labour chose to souk up to Murdoch & to play his game. They didn’t have to. The SNP didn’t need to souk up to the Sun in Scotland either – the Sun famously printed a noose on the front page on election day in 2007 & people still voted SNP anyway. The tide had turned against Labour in Scotland & the SNP would have won whatever the Sun had to say about it.

    Let’s hope that one outcome of this is that politicians realise that media moguls in this information age are not all powerful & don’t need to be courted like Emperors.

  3. Observer says:

    the continued demise of newsprint, a 19th C form that has dominated and corrupted public life for too long.
    ___________________________________

    That doesn’t mean that the soaraway Sun & the Daily Heil won’t continue to exist – but they may move to being web based.

    The thing about the web is that nobody confines themself to reading one newspaper. You graze & cherrypick what you want to read.

    So the days when one or two newspapers could make governments or break them are going if not gone.

  4. Good but I disagree with 4 of you 5 last points

    Point 1 – Milliband has been good – better than we might have expected An in big part because he has NOT couted News Internationl either in his leadership campaign or as Labour leader, ie quite distinct form Blair. Largely uncompromised and hence able to sink the boot effectvely

    2. There is a distinction. The Guardian(who broke the story!) just a slightly less bad version of the Sun????? TV – not perfect, but heavily regulated A key distinction Your “they are all in essence the same” assertion misses the point,

    3. I think you grossly romanticise the pre 85 print unions in assert they would have put a stop to hacking – they more likely have pressed for bonus payments for their members doing it!! And hacking is new – only became possible on this industrial scale with the rise of mass ownership of mobile phones dating from c1995

    4. Nothing wrong with SNP trying to get major newspaper group to endorse its record in office. Its how they did it and what they gave away to get it that is crucial. And despite labour working OT to find dirt, Ive seen no evidence to suggest the SNP acted anything other than ethically. Only an idiotic party would be indifferent to how the Murdoch stable of paper reported on them in the run up to an Scottish General election – they were going back someone so why not make an honest pitch? Which, i think, is all they did do

    Point 5 – 100% agreed

    1. bellacaledonia says:

      Thanks Citizen Smart. My point wasn’t that the Guardian is as bad as the Sun but that the problem is ownership not ‘bad owners’ ie a corporate media not just the Murdoch press.

      One of the reasons the Guardian is better is its trust owned (though they did back the Liberal Democrats in the last election …)

      I’m not romanticising the print unions I’m pointing out that one check on the powers of press barons is a workforce who have some clout & rights.

      I agree that the idea of Labour trying to portray the problem as being with the SNP is wholly laughable, I said at the time though Scottish nationalists should create their own forums
      rather then work with the discredited tabloids. Though rubbished at the time we feel totally vindicated for saying this.

  5. douglas clark says:

    Observer sire,

    It seems to me that your ire is perhaps well placed in a historical perspective.

    Is it appropriate in modern media such as oor bella? For she is one voice amongst many, one I subscribe to, one you do too.

    You are right to fart against the thunder of journalists when you say:

    So the days when one or two newspapers could make governments or break them are going if not gone.

    Journalists have been bought and sold for English gold.

    Fuck them.

  6. Scottish republic says:

    The scandal is a dirty little irrelevance and will be forgotten in a year rather like the MPs’ expenses is a fading memory.

    The real story is David Cameron using the scandal to present his privatise every public sector service bill and it’s been greeted with silence.

  7. Scottish Republic – this is a “real story”. Very real, Politically vital – could derail Camerons privatisation plans by forcing him out of office – i’d say its 50-50 he survives. UK General election? And also real as its is about the commercial future of the second largest media emprre in the world, And try telling the 500 plus sacked NoW employees it aint real , Or the 4,000 plus hacking victims. Waken up I suggest
    .
    Bella – fair comeback, But Re SNP – I think they successfully did both, Courted MSM and created their own alternatve media – best way surely – cover all bases? And although like you I am sure the web and self publishing is the future and newpapers as we know them dont have any , there is stil at least half the population who dont go near the web, or if they do it aint to debate politics! Largely and age.generational.issue, But MSM as we know it wil die out with the generations brought up with it as its main source of info Stil got a good few more decades in them – I HOPE!!!

  8. DougtheDug says:

    Ed Miliband has ‘found his feet’, ‘risen to the challenge’ ‘is leading the charge’ (ad nauseam – any paper)…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.

    One of the problems I see for Ed Miliband and Labour is that if they continue to ramp up the rhetoric on News International in an attempt to damage Cameron then the focus will eventually change to who was in government at the time of the phone hacking. If that can of worms is opened then although there will be a Tory flavour at the top of the tin due to Coulson’s links to Cameron it will be Labour all the way down after that for thirteen years. Blair, Mandelson, Brown and of course Ed himself. The stories of parties, weekends and visits to No. 10 and 11 by News International staff during Labour’s reign are already starting to surface.

    Ed and Labour aren’t clean of any links to Murdoch so I suspect there are quite a few worried faces in Labour as well as in the Conservatives as the whole business gathers pace.

  9. douglas clark says:

    DougtheDug,

    @DougtheDug says:
    July 19, 2011 at 1:02 pm

    Perhaps.

    It seems to me that this is not an exclusively English affair, as in their messed up disaster.

    Does not a certain leader of the opposition have points to answer?

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