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Sunday, July 10, 2011

News of the World – A Peculiarly British Conspiracy?

Go back five years to 2006 and we are told that the police already knew about the phone tapping and not just by a tabloid newspaper which hacked into the mobile phones of celebrities and ordinary folk alike.  We now know that 31 newspapers and 305 journalists were engaged in hacking into private phones. Or so the former Information Commissioner stated when as the scandal broke he was interviewed by the BBC. We learned that competition for the next story had become so fierce; it precipitated violence between journalists from rival newspapers.

So first let us kill a cherished fantasy. Journalism is not about press freedom, it is about fashion, propaganda and prejudice in the pursuit of uniformity and acquiescence.  And it is not a guardian of democracy but rather, its government sanctioned Rottweiler. A ‘Free Press’ to be successful has to be popular.  That should be axiomatic – gone are the days that an elite few wrote for the elite few.  Recognition is as important as truth for without it the ‘truth’ may as well be a lie.  Recognition is legitimacy.  Therefore, to be popular the media must be commercially successful. And newspapers do have massive influence on the way we think and therefore, on the way we behave. We know more about the lives of celebrities and fictitious characters from soap operas than we do about our own neighbours who may be living lives of isolation and poverty. Ethically the media has much to answer for. 

But it is we who choose to read the garbage that is out there and that includes the intellectual sophistry that does our thinking for us.  If people have no shame it is because we find it convenient to not think too much.

On Saturday the 9th of July 2011, the front cover of Britain’s right-of-centre and editorially conservative Spectator stated “They all did it” while the Left-wing Guardian Newspaper elided the obvious by screaming from its front page that Murdoch HQ had destroyed the evidence of its perfidious activities.  So is the News of the World a peculiarly British conspiracy?

An unregulated press has dominated our lives and informed our intelligence since the dawn of the electronic age.  The Internet and mobile phones have made the dissemination of information ubiquitous as it has prostituted knowledge to fashion and convenience, gratuitously bestowing sanitised nonsense on the believer.

We knew that our lives were an open book but for as long as it was our idols whose follies were being publicly exposed, the extensive phone tapping and hacking of mobile phones did not touch on our sensitive psyches. As if we were immune to its corruption. The BBC prognosis is that we are frightened of monopolistic power, that the concentration of too much power in a single news corporation is unwise and undemocratic.  But the BBC is a global powerhouse; it has monopolistic power and almost unlimited resources.  Its recently appointed Chairman, (Baron) Chris Patten is a noted Arabist as well as a former chairman of both the Conservative Party and Medical Aid for Palestine. Of course the response that the BBC is regulated is farcical. The BBC is its own policeman and slavishly follows British Foreign Office policy both in patriotic spirit as well as in its prejudices.  It is a convenient vehicle for controlling society because it is paid with a government mandated Poll Tax; by definition it forces poverty stricken British subjects as well as Her Majesty and the other members of British Royalty to pay exactly the same licence fee. The rat infested hovel and Buckingham palace, with its Rembrandt's and its Jewel encrusted gold baubles, pay equally, for the honour of funding the largest and most wealthy publicly supported news conglomerate on the planet.

The Press Complaints Commission is of course stacked with members of the media and as such has little enthusiasm for ethics, for statutory guidelines or for principled behaviour.  Media plurality means that diversity is permitted but within limits.  McCarthyism informs British society and keeps debate within prescribed limits of acceptability.   A belief that Press self-regulation is workable is not so naive as it is convenient.  Ed Miliband, leader of the Opposition Labour Party, asked what happened to morality in parts of the newspaper industry? But it was Television that gave us Big Brother and it was Television that set itself up as moral arbiter of British as well as Global Society. British television justifies British prejudices rather than dispassionately reporting events.

And while the BBC participated in this populist dance on the grave of what is described as a British institution (the News of the World that is) the reality is that instead of admitting we are all responsible for the situation that permitted the press to be above the law it actively participated in holding the old man down so that he drowned all the more quickly.

People are incentivised by cash. It used to be glory, except that glory does not pay bills.  The BBC’s unlimited access to cash facilitated the debasement of the industry and its sensationalisation of Sports Reporting created this monster by educating both player and spectator as to what could be gained by notoriety and misbehaviour.

The timing of the allegations cannot be coincidental. The final stages of Rupert Murdoch’s acquisition of BSkyB were just a few weeks away.

Control of BSkyB was the jewel in the crown that Murdoch planned for his media empire. He should be satisfied that his empire, at least in the UK, has been rejected but that he still, at least for now, lives. The last foreigner to attempt to hold onto a British newspaper was Conrad Black and he now sits in jail while the media mogul before him was murdered, allegedly by Arab Agents trained by MI6.  One could argue that Murdoch’s assumed demise marks the end of the era of the media mogul, the media autocracy replaced by the electronic media.  But who controls iPlayer in the UK? The BBC of course. The paper based Press is gradually being replaced by its internet partners.  The global names and the minor titles are to be found on the internet; that they are now moving onto a model of paid internet subscriptions is inevitable.  The internet era will eventually make the printed (news) media redundant.

I-Player permits an Orwellian future to be more tightly supervised by our political masters and their acolyte’s in the so called ‘Quality Press’. What scares me most is not the gutter press and its diet of boobs and sport, titillating gossip and frivolous inanity but the purpose driven ‘Quality Press’ with its middle class morality and stereotyped (and therefore acceptable) prejudices, its agenda driven proprietors carefully compliant and subtly sycophantic.

The crucifixion of Saint Rupert of Murdoch is a lesson for those who want to invest in British industry. That they were all of them “doing it” was unimportant.  History has demonstrated that it was who they were that counted.

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