Saturday, 9 July 2011

Hacked off or up? News International

One day crisis management textbooks will analyse the flurry on the bridge of News International this weekend. As truth everybody suspected but nobody could pin down slowly emerges, rubbing its eyes, NI’s whole strategy — lying and deceit with an occasional tub to the whale — is increasingly feeling like Niedergang if not Götterdämmerung.

The News of the World closure was a desperate attept at damage limitation, and the question for Ttanic watchers everywhere will have to be whether, in the present media environment, the watertight doors within the ship can hold against increasing water pressure.

This week has seen the dramatic slamming of a big watertight door on the biggest section on board, a title that in its glory days could boast the largest English language circulation on earth. As hapless hacks drown in their section, many of them are bound to harbour less than kindly thoughts towards the Cap’n on the bridge and his senior officers.

They are, after all, the people who went down there to clean everything up after the Glenn Mulcaire hacking scandal of 2006. René Girard says that wherever human beings gather there is an inexorable scapegoat script at work, but why them? They were the good guys. Well, Monsieur Girard would say, in a real scapegoat script the good guys always do get it in the neck.

There was a simple commercial logic to closing the News of the Screws. The brand was sinking fast, as advertisers bailed out, feeling rather slimed by its behaviour. Some of them may be unintelligent enough to think a Sun on Sunday would be wildly different. Many will suspect this is a case of change the name and do the same again.

Conspiracy theories abound. One journalistic friend told me yesterday that the whole thing could be a strategy to confuse investigators by closing down a crime scene. Another explained Murdoch never gets it wrong and was looking for a way out of this particular medium as its circulation wilted, along with that of all conventional dinosaur powermedia.

Well, I don’t know. I do know that as the Police swoop on Andy Coulson and Clive Goodman the position of Rebekah Brooks becomes increasingly untenable. Here is a good and gifted journalist whose newsroom was apparently perpetrating some 4,000 crimes over a few years, the principal evidence for which was the content of stories being published every week. Yet she asks us to believe she, unlike her four million readers, knew nothing. Where on earth did she think all those revelations were coming from. Mystic Meg?

As to the rest of News Internatonal they have just, James Murdoch tells us, given the police evidence of serious wrongdoing down the years. Where did that come from? If they had it why did they not give it to the police earlier? Or even read it themselves and do anything about it apart from shooting the sergeant? The News Internatonal brand is certainly rotten from the head down and nobody outside the organisation yet knows how far down the rot reaches.

Although I have had other things to do with my Sundays down the years, I shall miss the Screws. Its cheeky chappie antics were essentially end-of-the-pier stuff, although politicians quivered before its chickenshit right wing hufflepuff, and that of the Sun, in all kinds of subtle and no-so-subtle ways. Shame on them that they walked in fear of it, but that can hardly be blamed entirely on the papers. Big media used to be very powerful, we all believed.

There is a sting in the tail, like the final scene of Roman Polanski’s Night of the Vampires, where the nubile miss he has rescued from all the vampires in Transylvania bites the vampire slayer. Readers of Flat Earth News will remember Neil Davies section on this kind of carry on, in which he reveals that the involvement of the Daily Mail in such dark arts was, in the teeming summer of such behaviour, probably more extensive than that of News Internatonal Titles.

Yesterday’s Mail openly defied the Fleet Street convention that dogs never eat other dogs. Its headline crowed over the demise of “The Newspaper that Died of Shame.” This could be the Acme of the Daily Mail’s famous hypocrisy. The soft but insistent niff of rotten rat in its own basement is better concealed, but no less inherently pungent.


Gurdur said...

I rather like this post!

Anonymous said...

Excellent Post!

Ray Barnes said...

While all that you have written is indisputably true, the fact remains that as long as a gullible and sensation seeking public is prepared to pay for defamatory and scandalous 'dirt' on public or private figures there will always be a Murdoch or his equivalent to supply it.
The fact that his rotton empire has flourished for so long, is a sad reflection of depraved public appetites.

UKViewer said...

Excellently dissected. I think that Ray has underlined my thoughts exactly.

I can truthfully say that I have not read either the NOWT or Sun for more years than I care to remember. I've always thought them as treating news and people as objects to be praised, used or abused. I could never share their glee at bringing people down having built them up.

Their exploitation of others misery has perhaps contributed somewhat to the state of then nation today.

News International, under the leadership of the 'Murdoch' dynasty, is not in safe hands, its a desire to dominate media, both print and broadcast, globally, by hook or by crook seems to me to be undesirable and needs to be reined in now. Their takeover of BSkyB needs to be stopped now.

The Daily Mail is another nag, from a different stable, but with a like agenda of poking and prying by whatever means to get the story that will damage someone and is sensationalist and exaggerated.

Hopefully the lessons learned from this particular situation will be translated into legislation, which while maintaining the freedom of the press, will make it clear what and what is not acceptable in seeking stories for publication.

Finally, I would hope that Reecca Brooke would see for herself that her integrity is fatally damaged and do the honorable thing and fall on her sword.

the Jog said...

The speed at which the closure happened is so breathtakingly opportunistic as to suggest that Murdoch has other tricks up his sleeve.
Ray Barnes notes that the flourishing empire is a sad reflection of depraved public tastes. But it's the media that shapes taste and views. That's why they are in business. I could say that we would not get such a sad reflection if we had a better Mirror. But then ...

Red said...

I agree, great post. But I have to say I have always thought the Daily Mail was worse than the News of the World. At least the NOTW had a comic air about it, the Daily Mail however, pretends to be real intelligent news...

Revsimmy said...

The Murdochs pere et fils are doing a great impression of Elliot Carver in the James Bond film Tomorrow Never Dies.

The general public in Liverpool have never forgiven the Sun for their post-Hillsborough disaster stance, in spite of the paper's attempts at an apology a couple of years ago. I only hope that the whole of the British public, including advertisers, will keep up the pressure in spite of News Corps tactics to try to wriggle out of their responsibilities by closing NOTW.

Charles said...

What NOTW did is disgusting & immoral
If what is alleged is true the people involved should go to prison

None of this should blind us to the fact that like many other papers NOTW did some harm and did some good.It has run some great campaigns

Believe it or not The Murdoch's have also done some good -On Newsnight last week the editor of the Guardian (who have done a great job over phone hacking)admitted that they saved the newspaper industry a few decades ago, as well as several great individual titles.

I have 2 other concerns one is that important though this is, I am not sure that it is the most important story around at the moment (famine in Africa ),the story that broke last week of another vulnerable adult being murdered for his benefits having been kept in slavery after coming out of care and being failed by social services (which seem to be as systemic as phone hacking at NOTW)and the chaos that might be about to ensue in Southern Sudan would all be further up my list.

The other is that I note that the BBC is not impartial in this, and it would be good just once or twice to hear them remind viewers that News International are a major competitor to the BBC

Having said all that I am pleased there is to be a public enquiry and hope the truth will out and the right conclusions drawn
What I do not want is an end to freedom of the press and an end to competition for the BBC.

Vinaigrette girl said...

Hm. Two things: in the US, NewsCorp has single-handedly contributed the most to the utter decline of anything remotely resembling facts-based journalistic integrity, primarliy through Fox News, and more recently through the decline of the Wall Street Journal. 'Faux News' lies to its regulators and to its viewers on a regular basis and has done for years, so why is anyone other than cynical about anything Murdoch does or says? He wouldn't recognise reality as something beyond his purchase price if the Angel Gabriel introduced him personally to God.

Secondly: R. Brooks a "good and gifted journalist"? OSRSLY? I rarely boggle over anything in this blog, but I'm boggling now, asking myself 'for what values of "good", "gifted" and "journalist"?' She, along with the rest of the CNA, are the kind of dysfunctional which perhaps requires the honesty of an Oliver Sacks patient to discern; the ones who are freed by their insensitivity to tone to read faces honestly, and the ones who are face-blind but exquisitely sensitive to tone, and so who are not deceived by faces.

Liars all, every one of 'em, to themselves, yes, but to the rest of us too. And yes, we all lie at one time or another but we can't all ring up Gordon Brown and publish the medical details of his infant child's illness, and lie about how we got those details in the first place.

Bishop Alan Wilson said...

Sorry to have been away in brussels, and unable to follow this through as I would have liked until now. Thanks, Ray and UKV. It's true we feed this stuff, in a rather chicken and egg way. The Mail has been, in some ways, far more ruthless and questionable in its methods than the Screws. See Nick Davies' book FEN for details. David, you're right that in the old dispensation press barons have formed as well as reflected taste. The MIrror is curiously weak; but then they all, increasingly, are. RevS thanks for the Bond link! Perhaps our version of the QAab spring will be standing up to Media Barons in a way our politicians have signally failed to do. Charles I agree NoTW wasn't all bad, and Murdoch all evil. NoTW journos will understandably feel they were the fall guys for head office. The BBC isn't impartial, but it's plainly a much more effective, trusted and hi-qualitybrand just now than News Corp. Eternal vigilance, and all that, but there is accountability there you don't get with the old fashioned dinosaur barons. What's busting their power isn't the BBC, but disintermediation which they can't stop. VG very grateful for US perspective. On reflection I was too kind in my estimate of Ms Brooks, probably, certainly morally, when all I meant was she was very good at doing her job for her employers — which is something different. Thanks for the correction.

Jonathan Jennings said...

Hmmm. 'we feed this stuff ...' Up to a point, Lord Copper.

Murdoch's fears that the 8% of the population which reads the NOTW might be preparing to join the 92% of the population which doesn't seems to have been at least one determinant factor in its closure. In its own terms, yes, hugely, profitable and influential. In real terms, probably, fewer people read the NOTW than go to church.

So don't draw sweeping conclusions about the moral health of 'us' and 'we' based on the reading habits of such a small section of the population. On the whole, 'we' don't feed this stuff at all.

The people who did feed it were other journalists and commentators in so regularly taking the lead from the NOTW and imitating its style and approach. They followed up the stories and have therefore been complicit in affirming the legitimacy of the methods used.

In buying in to this, they have ceded justification for mild celebrity indiscretion leading, we guess now, to the illegal harvesting of data on a commercial scale based on the extension of 'celebrity' or 'public figure' to include anyone about whom journalists might have had a reason to be curious, murder and terrorist victims included.

'The end justifies the means' reasoning employed by journalists has resulted in them assuming an overriding moral imperative and justification for getting at whatever they, their editors and proprietors decide is the most important truth of the day. Their judgements have produced news which in bulk for the most part looked pretty inconsequential.

This is the same kind of crisis that hit politics two years ago; both caused by a small select group free to make up and abide by their own rules and believing themselves to be untouchable by the law, taking for granted their privilege and thereby moving further and further away from 'the passenger on the Clapham omnibus', who sees no justification whatsoever for their conduct.

And it has come as a shock to journalists to find, as MPs found last time, that the population at large does not share their understanding of what is right and wrong.

This one will run for some time ...

Orbilia said...

Great post!

At least the NoW didn't purport to be anything other than it was, unlike the Mail.

As for shame, well certain politicians are being pretty shameful in denying their shameful complicity!

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