The News of The World and its hacking scandal is the reason why everyone hates journalists. This is the only chance to stop Murdoch dominating the media.
The News of the World has to date, according to The Guardian, hacked the phones of over 3,000 individuals over an extended period of time. These include celebrities such as Hugh Grant, royals such as Prince William, the ex-Deputy Prime Minister Lord Prescott, and, as most recently revealed, ordinary individuals such as Milly Dowler and the parents of missing schoolgirl Jessica Chapman.
This is where, as Prime Minister David Cameron pointed out in the ‘emergency debate’ called in the House of Commons yesterday, the case extends its severity from celebrities and officials with details of their personal lives and private cases investigated, to the relatives of everyday murder victims. It is obvious that now is the time to step in, with Cameron calling a public inquiry into the matter and why the original internal investigation failed to grasp the true extent of the hacking into telephone communications.
Is it really any wonder why journalists have such a bad name? According to some statistics, journalists are less trusted than bankers, and about as much as politicians. During my work experience placement at a local newspaper we were interviewing teachers who were protesting outside the council house at their schools being turned into academies. One teacher was sceptical of being reported, partly due to what her head teacher would say if she saw her name in the paper, and partly – I suspect – due to how the paper was going to report on it. Who would trust a newspaper like The News of the World (NOTW) to quote them correctly when they have been intercepting voicemails and phone calls as part of an everyday practise of journalism when they barely trust the rest of them?
NOTW has brought down even further the standards of journalism across the country. Morally and ethically this behaviour is unacceptable practice for anyone, let alone a newspaper. A free press is a fundamental part of our democracy, despite how dominated it might seem by Murdoch and his sly empire. But if the people with the power to publish news are going to abide by these guidelines when chasing down information for stories, then it is impossible for the public to trust them.
The newspaper industry is in enough decline already, and NOTW’s departure will heavily damage the newspaper industry, putting 280 people out of jobs and closing a publication which has been running for 168 years. It was already damaged by the pulls in advertising by a number of important clients such as Vauxhall, Ford, Butlins, Halifax, The Cooperative and Virgin holidays. Perhaps Murdoch sensed its fall and decided to pull before they were shut down, especially to try and save his BSkyB deal. It is also highly possible that it will be shunned by the public, many of which may choose not to buy newspapers with such a poor ethical stance (if it is that The Sun readers figure out that the two papers are under the same ownership – it took me a year of delivering the actual papers before I realised this).
Aside from this, there’s the growing problem of the incestuous relationships between Murdoch, Cameron, Brooks and Colson which may interrupt and perhaps determine the outcome of this public enquiry. Brooks, a personal friend of the Prime Minister and now CEO of News International, insists she knew nothing of the horrific acts being undertaken at her own newspaper when she was editor – which either makes her a liar, or not a brilliant editor. Every Prime Minister knows that you need to get friendly with Murdoch to help gather public opinion on your side, a tradition which began many years ago with the Thatcher government. In addition to this, Andy Colson, Rebecca Brooks’ deputy editor of NOTW at the time who also went on to be editor, then advanced to become David Cameron’s director of communications. Many alliances run straight through the heart of this issue, which could cause considerable obstacles in running a full investigation of the matter.
It may be interesting to speculate the impact the media will have in the next General Election. Ed Miliband seems completely unsupportive of Murdoch and has called for the resignation of Brooks along with many other politicians. Will he begin to cosy up to Murdoch and go back on his word, or could this be seen as the end of the influence Murdoch will have on the media? Previous Labour leaders who didn’t back him have seen the effects of this; Neil Kinnock and Gordon Brown were both portrayed by the range of newspapers in a highly negative view, which damaged their reputations considerably.
Since the 1980s, Murdoch’s power has grown exponentially and with his bid to take over BSkyB still in place, it is finally being questioned (properly) whether News Corporation is a ‘fit and proper’ company and should be entitled to it, which appears like it will take some time. He described the actions taken by the journalists as ‘deplorable and unacceptable’ yet gives his continuing support to his CEO Rebekah Brooks. The final go-ahead for Murdoch’s takeover of BSkyB is drawing closer, and as the government begin to panic about the implications of this and News Corporation’s public support of the coalition, it will be an interesting few days, especially once this crisis blows over and the true impact it will have in British journalism will be made fully clear.
News Corporation is currently worth £20 billion, but the shares are falling by the day and as the paper was pulled its 7.5 million readers across Britain yesterday, could this be the beginning of the decline of the Murdoch empire?
This needs to be the final wake-up call to the government that no man should dominate the media. This should especially not be a man who controls a newspaper which abdicated the corrupt practices of phone-hacking to a number of victims. It isn’t just the future of News Corporation that is hanging in the balance, but the future of British journalism.