Friday, July 8, 2011

Has Murdoch pulled it off? The Devil closes the News of the Screws and claims ‘I am blameless in this whole affair. Now bloody well get a move on and let my buy all of Sky’ . . . UPDATE. . . UPDATE. . .

Well, the news flows so fast that even this award-winning* blog can’t keep up (*St Breward and District Gardening Club (incorporating Blisland and Temple Green Fingers and Mount Friends of the Earth) Blog of The Year 2010). Yesterday, the news came through that several firms were so disgusted by the behaviour of the News of the World that they would be withdrawing their advertising. Their principled charge for the high moral ground came after the Screws admitted that the mobile phone of a young murder victim had been hacked into and it was further revealed that the mobile phones of the relatives of those who British soldiers who had died in Afghanistan were also hacked into.
The issue was obvious: the News of the World and all who sailed in her were scum and firms including Ford, Renault, 02, Butlin’s, Sainsbury’s, npower, Mitsubishi, the Halifax, Aldi, Virgin Holidays and the Co-operative were shocked to the core by the revelations and did not feel their good names should be associated with such a publication.
Well, forgive me if I don’t organise a parade in admiration for such high-minded action.
Notwithstanding the specific instances of abysmal behaviour — sanctioning, or at the very least, condoning the hacking into the phone of the murder victim Milly Dowler and the phones of war victim relatives — those firms will most certainly have been aware that thereunto the Screws’ reputation was not exactly on par with that of a virgin bride on her wedding day. You will have to be under 12 or living on the North Pole not to know of the many, many complaints over the years of ‘tabloid intrusion’ into people’s lives and as arguably the most successful red-top Sunday paper it was highly unlikely the Screws was the exception to the rule, especially as over the years it has been sued for libel and carried sensationalist stories every week. So the various firms’ newly adopted stance of ‘goodness me, who are we dealing with!’ is disingenuous to say the least. What will have been on their minds is that because of the shit the Screws had landed itself in, they would be in a very strong  and very welcome position to ‘re-negotiate’ ad rates and get the same volume of advertising for a lot less moolah. Naturally, this could not be allowed to happen overnight, but their ads would have slowly started appearing over the next few weeks — at a far more favourable rate, of course — in conjunction with lofty corporate statements along the lines of ‘the News of the World and its owners News International have re-assured [name of saintly firm] that it has dealt severely with staff responsible for past unacceptable journalistic practices and that such practices are are a thing of the past. In the light of this solemn assurance [name of saintly firm] is happy to continue . . .’ etc. ad nauseam. But in view of yesterday’s ‘shock announcement’ that is no longer how it will all play out.
For yesterday, Rupert Murdoch played, if not a masterstroke, a very clever move: he simply shut down the News of the World.

. . .

How clever doing so was remains to be seen. The point is that the big prize is ensuring that his company News Corporation, which owns News International, manages to get complete control Sky or, strictly, BSkyB, although calling it that was merely a sop when Sky took over — or officially merged with — the abysmal and failing British Satellite Broadcasting, whose unique selling point was the ‘squarial’, a ‘square aerial’. (Why this should somehow have improved whatever crap they were intending to broadcast I really don’t know.
In fact, the Brits have form in the way of utterly daft unique
selling points: the first Austin Allegro was touted as being rather special and different because it had a ‘square steering wheel’. That was soon dropped, but not before several hundred drivers had died in crashes while trying to get to grips with this important motoring innovation.) The whole phone hacking scandal was very damaging, not only to the Screws itself, but arguably to Murdoch’s bid for full control — so why not shut it down? It kills the hacking scandal far faster than it might otherwise have gone away and Murdoch can blame a corrupt culture in the Screws which had nothing to do with him and can attempt to claim moral high ground by shutting the paper and sacking staff who might have been responsible.
Furthermore, the Screws might have a long history, but in the upper echelons of hackdom folk aren’t nostalgic. More to the point, Murdoch can launch a ‘Sun on Sunday’ to take the place of the Screws, re-hire the Screws staff he values and get rid of any dead wood. All those oh-so-moral advertisers who announced that buying ad space from the Screws was now more than they could stomach can now buy ad space in the newly launched Sun on Sunday in good conscience (and most likely dealing with the same people they previously dealt with). And, dear friends, a new, more perfect era can begin. Naturally, everyone will know what is really going on, but all those anti-Murdoch critics who continue to call for blood — as they will — will now begin to look rather silly with News International claiming they had dealt with the problem decisively, there can be no doubt that the wrongdoers had been brought to book and further criticism was in bad faith.
The main flaw in this strategy is that Rebekah Brooks, now News International CEO, who was editor of the Screws when much of this is going on, has not been sacrificed, and critics can legitimately ask ‘why not’. Murdoch could, of course, announce that she had been given a stern talking to and that her canteen privileges have been revoked for a month, but the truth is he needs her and he needs her to keep her mouth shut, so she is in no real danger. Her successor as editor, Andy Coulson, is, we are told due to be arrested today, but I don’t think he is in much danger of doing time. Labour’s leader Ed Miliband has been banging on about how David Cameron appointing Andy Coulson as his director of communications was a ‘catastrophic failure of judgment’, but sadly for Ed that just sounds like so much politicking and no one give a toss. Anyway, it wasn’t. Cameron probably asked Coulson ‘were you involved’, Coulson probably said ‘yes’, and Cameron then probably said ‘well, we’ll see how it goes. If it gets too hairy, I’ll have to cut you loose, but let’s play it by ear.’
Meanwhile, the National Union of Journalists and all ‘concerned’ journalist — i.e. those on papers which hardly sell at all: the Guardian and The Independent — are all still banging on about the whole affair, but truthfully by closing the Screws, Murdoch has pulled the rug from under their feet. There’s also another ‘big story’ brewing — unprecedented famine in the Horn of Africa — so all those who still might have something to lose if the hacking scandal does linger on will be praying that it hurries up and gets far worse and starts taking everyone’s mind off the matter. God bless them all. It’s at moments like this that I thank my lucky starts I am nothing but an utterly insignificant little tick who drives an £800, 11-year-old Rover and is invisible to every good-looking woman he encounters. Actually, forget that last bit: it still irritates me.

. . .

Let me repeat what I have written here before and which will probably earn me the sheer disgust if not the outright hatred of many: when he bought The Times in 1981, Rupert Murdoch was asked to give his solemn assurance that he would not interfere in editorial policy of the papers. He is said to have replied: ‘I didn’t spend several million pounds buying The Times not to interfere.’ So the man can’t be all bad.

. . .

Since writing the above, I have a special edition of Radio 4’s The Media Show (available on all good radios) in which the usual suspects were trotted out to pontificate and observe, including the former Guardian editor Peter Preston and Bill Hagerty, a former editor of the Daily Mirror (now The Mirror) and The People, as well as Carole Malone, with whom I once worked with who could broadly be described, a la Private Eye, as one of the Street’s foremost Glenda Slaggs. It was, in my view, the usual whitewash and how the Screws always did its best ‘to get things right’ etc. Well, yes, but to keep their lawyers happy and to ensure not to much dosh was wasted on avoidable libel trials. And the observation that it always did its best ‘to get things right’ is pretty bloody irrelevant when the story you are doing your best ‘to get right’ is as vitally important as to whether Ryan Giggs is cheating on his wife or whether Blue’s Duncan James also bats for his own side. The distinction was made long ago, and is worth repeating here that what is ‘in the public interest’ and what ‘the public are interested in’ are not necessarily always (or even ever given the gormless nature of much of the tabloid readership) the same thing.
I don’t doubt that in the wake of the Press’s extensive coverage of MPs’ expenses scandal, that gang will not try their utmost to muzzle us as much as they can and then some. They have been handed a grand advantage thanks to the idiots on the Screws. And they mustn’t be allowed to do so. But please let us draw the line somewhere: yes, every democracy needs a free and, within reason, unfettered Press, but that doesn’t and will never mean that we should defend up to the hilt each and every nasty thing the Press does. It boils down to this: if a democracy wants a free Press, it must take the rough with the smooth. But I, for one, am not going to spend a single second arguing that the rough the Press gets up to is in the slightest bit necessary.
Another update concerns Rupert and his son James: apparently it was James who insisted on the strategy of shutting down the Screws. Rupert had to be persuaded.

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