Hello. We all know there are things a civilised society should generally not do: perpetrate industrialised genocide, eat babies for breakfast, sleep with cats, that kind of thing. But so often these things happen and, classically, we are complicit by our inaction.
It sounds hysterical to equate the NOTW with the Nazis, but when German citizens were forced to bear witness to the results of their own complicity at Buchenwald they were at least privileged to be drawn the starkest of lines, the dazzling horror of which would permeate their society for decades. “We didn’t know” was their refrain. In our globally networked age, that’s no longer a defence, just as it seems impossible to draw such solitary lines again because we see them everyday.
Global media lays bare the extent of starvation, exploitation and death with such efficiency that you could lose count of the lines crisscrossing the continents - from Syria to Somalia, Bangladesh to Mexico - all detailing defiling circumstances that should not stand, and yet do. The demands for our outrage & assistance are constant, and whereas this has the potential to be massively humanistic in the sheer number of strangers we could help, the truth is that the effect verges on the insulating. We comment on whistleblowing blogs and turn away. We retweet atrocities and keep on walking. We think such things could never happen here and yet we know the NOTW scandal is fundamentally despicable and there’s still an undercurrent of apathy threatening to pull the story under. How? This has to be a line we can’t ignore, if only because it so contradicts our own self-image. If this passes without historic changes to press operations then we, as a supposedly civilised society, are compromised.
Don’t get me wrong on social networks by the way. I’m not saying that being a tiny part of a positive global force - whether it be Twitter or Facebook - isn’t a great thing. Any tool of mass society that can redefine government agendas (on the NHS and Forestry sales, to name but two) has the potential to be the ultimate source of collective enfranchisement, but the entire process is in its infancy. Twitter, in particular, is wildly unfocussed. Right now thousands of twitterers are trying to get people to pull their Sky subs. Why? It’s a totally autonomous business that provides livelihoods for thousands of creatives, from Ross Kemp to the Jinsy boys.
This isn’t just about Murdoch. This is the price we’ve paid for trusting our leaders to do the right thing – i.e. to say no when asked to accept the homogonisation of mass media in exchange for power-shifting press coverage.
Read Matthew Norman’s article on the roots of Murdoch’s diabolical bargain for an overview of what Thatcher let out of the box and how it implicates the police. As a result, News Corp has been allowed to evolve on an amoral basis by which its empire-expanding ends justify any means. And they’re probably not alone. This anonymous blog by an ex-big name journo makes it quite clear that commercial pressures on the printed press have always forced them to jump through barely legal hoops to get the scoops that we demand.
Peter Oborne’s brilliant article in today’s Spectator rams the point home. Cameron can find no escape from Murdoch’s pocket and the mainstream press are running soft on the story because they’re both scared. The former needs News Corp to maintain power while the latter needs us to breeze over their own methods, and there’s a chance they’ll get away with it. Let’s not forget that the majority of folk are at least partially offline and reliant on the long established media channels, and those channels very rarely mobilise their readership for any issue that doesn’t serve their own agenda.
Look at the horrendous coverage The Daily Mail gave Sachsgate purely because they have a vested interest in the BBC’s destruction as a competitive media force. Murdoch may grumble about last night’s Ten ‘O Clock news devoting half its running time to his troubles, but I still remember The Daily Mail running 12 pages on two juvenile jokers winding up an old man. It’s vile & disgusting that it should, comparatively, almost totally ignore the News of The World hacking the voicemails of terrorist victims and murdered girls.
As Danny Baker pointed out on Twitter: “How much contempt must you have for the public to lead your newspaper today with two members of the royal family in a canoe?” And this from a paper that should be revelling in Murdoch’s predicament. The Mail’s gutless reticence suggests the true extent of Fleet Street’s moral collapse. Only The Guardian have been chasing News Corp from the off, with The Independent and Telegraph playing catchup.
As for Murdoch’s own papers, here’s what Danny Baker tweeted about The Sun’s coverage:
“Soaraway Sun? How about Hide-Away Sun? Run Away Sun. Exposed as a feeble tool of a vampiric waxy pea sized hearted Parent Company Sun.”
Here are The Mail and Sun front pages from Tuesday:
This is journalism designed to blind, to deceive, to dupe you & me. This is the press we deserve if we let Murdoch get away with statements like this:
“I have made clear that our company must fully and proactively cooperate with the police in all investigations, and that is exactly what News International has been doing and will continue to do under Rebekah Brooks’ leadership.”
So Rupert Murdoch, who would rabidly release the dogs on any organisation that dared investigate itself over a criminal matter is perfectly happy to let Rebekah Brooks investigate herself?! Has he gone completely insane??! Does he believe himself to be above the law to that degree?
If he is, and if we allow ourselves to stomach his hubris, we can kiss goodbye to any pretence of free press we ever had. This is The Line. Here are the email addresses of the CEOs of NOTW’s principle advertisers. Here’s a page to easily tweet your disapproval to all of them. Here’s the page to literally send a message to David Cameron advocating he rethink the BskyB takeover, and here’s the page to register your support for a public inquiry into the hacking.
Do any or all of these and keep this story alive till we get the truth.
+++AMAZING UPDATE: 7.7.11 – 1640hrs - The News of the World has folded. News Corp has announced that this Sunday’s NOTW will be the last, after over 160 years on the streets. Murdoch has sacrificed the paper to save the personnel – aka, Brooks – and the BskyB takeover. O.M.G. Will it work? Watch this space+++
+++UPDATE: 21.7.11 – as we all know, it didn’t work. Brooks & BskyB are out the door and, as of today, the Met investigation is spreading beyond News International, scrabbling for access to the dirty secrets of every other rag that dared hire a P.I. Surely this will only end with a complete rebuild of red top ethics? Meanwhile, the Murdochs are ejected from UK politics for the remainder of Rupert’s life at least. There is, perhaps, a God.+++