Friday, 8 July 2011

Phone Hacking: I Can Understand The Outrage, But Not The Sense Of Shock


Apocalypse NOTW

Two years ago today, the British newspaper The Guardian broke the story that journalists at the Murdoch owned tabloid, the News Of The World, had been illegally hacking into the voicemail messages of celebrities, politicians, and who knows who else.

Well two years down the line we are beginning to have an understanding of exactly who else was being hacked, as well as the high profile political figures, the British Royal Family, sports stars and TV personalities, they were also stalking the voicemails of murdered school girl Milly Dowler, the victims and loved ones of the 7/7 London terrorist attacks and the families of British service personnel killed in Iraq and Afghanistan. Police are now finally, FINALLY, investigating allegations that more than 4000 people had their phones hacked in what could be the biggest invasion of privacy in media history.

This scandal which had been bubbling quietly in the background for years, erupted into a force 10 shit-storm against the backdrop of the takeover of BSkyB by Murdoch's News Corporation, which already owns 39% percent of Britain's largest pay-to-view television station and has just been given the green-light by Culture Secretary Jeremy Hunt to take 100% control. On top of his 100% stake in the Times, The Sunday Times, The Sun, The News Of The World and publishers Harper Collins, this gives Murdoch a staggering amount of influence over the British media and the decision to allow the takeover has been received with incredulity by pretty much everyone outside Murdoch's sphere of influence, most notably The Guardian's Nick Davies, Labour MP Tom Watson and actor Hugh Grant.

This has already been described as the British Watergate, and truly exposes the insidious grip Murdoch's corrupt media empire has on our political establishment, and just how far those tendrils of control actually run. They certainly run deep into the Metropolitan Police, who appear to have done everything they could to slow down and mismanage the investigation they were supposed to be conducting into the News Of The World's activities, whilst their officers accepted over a hundred thousand pounds in bribes from the NOTW.

They appear to run even deeper into 10 Downing Street, Rebekah Brooks, who was the editor of the NOTW at the time and is now chief executive of News International, has been described as a close personal friend of Prime Minister David Cameron, whilst Andy Coulson, who succeeded Brooks as NOTW editor and was forced to resign in 2007 following the conviction of one of his journalists for phone hacking, immediately went on to become the Conservative Party's Director of Communications, a post he held through the 2010 General Election and into government, right up to 2011, when he was once again forced to resign over the phone hacking scandal.

Yesterday News Corp announced that this Sunday's edition of the NOTW, already the target of a hugely popular boycott campaign that has seen many companies remove their advertising from the "newspaper", would be its last, widely seen as further attempt to cover-up what their paper was doing and distract attention away from the BSkyB takeover, and this morning Andy Coulson has been arrested on allegations surrounding corruption and phone hacking.

"Kaboom!" Twitterbomb!

Right, that's enough of what I know, lets take a deep breath, poke that dangerously engorged spleen with a sharp stick and see what I think...

I think that over the last 30 or so years Rupert Murdoch, through his ever growing stranglehold on the British media, has presented a strong anti-democratic force in British politics. From Thatcher's use of the police to break the strikes in the Wapping Dispute of 1986, via 1992's "It was The Sun won won it" headline the day after the General Election, to the defection from Conservative to Tony Blair's New Labour prior to the 1997 General Election and the inevitable defection back to the Conservative Party, when Gordon Brown replaced Blair as Labour leader in 2007, Rupert Murdoch's editors have predicted and preempted changes of government so reliably one really has to wonder; does he change sides because he knows which party is going to win, or does the party in question win because Rupert Murdoch has changed sides? It is certainly fair to say that no political party has won a General Election in this country without the backing of Murdoch's media empire since about 1979, and you really have to wonder what a political party may be willing to promise in order to secure that support.

Is it worth pointing out at this stage that despite making billions of pounds in the UK over the last few decades, Rupert Murdoch has paid roughly, rounding-down, absolutely fuck all in tax?

In return for absolute unwavering support for the party in power, he has been allowed to get away with murder.

Figuratively speaking of course.


Murdoch has notoriously exacted a great deal of personal control over his newspapers editorial content, his agenda is unflinchingly right wing, pro-war, pro-big business, pro-tax cuts for the rich, pro-Israel, pro-apartheid, anti-feminist, anti-immigrant, anti-gay, anti-trade union, anti-NHS, anti-BBC, anti-welfare state and most certainly anti-anything that might restrict how much of the British media he is allowed to own. His newspapers bombard us with coverage of how disgraceful it is that one footballer or another has cheated on his wife, yes, the News Of The World that bastion of family values and morality that happily plasters half naked women across half its pages every week. His papers fill us to the point of obesity with tawdry scandal, celebrity drivel and sport, whilst downplaying anything of real note that can not be twisted to serve his own agenda. They make up the most vile rumours about people and hungrily leap upon the most thuggish of moral panics, feeding upon the pain and misery of the people whose stories they report, and whose causes they they claim to champion.

Abused children, terror victims and dead soldiers.

How can a newspaper claim to support "Help For Heroes" when they were amongst the loudest cheerleader for an illegal invasion and an unjust war that has killed hundreds of British service men and women? This for me was one reason why it was particularly satisfying to see the British Legion pull its advertising from this week News Of The World. If Rupert Murdoch was any more of a villain he would have to move News International's headquarters to a secret location on a tropical island, underneath a volcano, and conduct all television interviews whilst stroking a white cat.

One question that springs to mind is why is everyone so surprised to learn the lengths at which these tabloid grave-robbers will go to, in order to stir the pot of scandal or outrage? We know they have been caught raking through peoples dust-bins and tapping private conversations before.

Their choice of victims whose privacy they invaded is also unsurprising, their red-tops in particular have always capitalised on tragedy and disaster, both public and personal in order to sell their papers, why is anyone shocked that they would erase voice mail messages from the telephone of a teenage girl missing from home, in order to glean fresh tid-bits for their scandal-sheet from the new messages that could then be left. Why is anyone surprised that they would give Milly Dowler's family false hope that she was still alive? Misery and anger have been their bread and butter for years. Why is anyone surprised that they would shut down the News Of The World and put hundreds of employees out of work but refuse to fire Rebekah Brooks, in a move described on Twitter as being like a surgeon cutting away all the healthy tissue in order to save the cancer. Murdoch's reputation for having nothing but contempt for his staff goes back a long, long way.

And finally, why is anyone surprised that our politicians in government and opposition, with a tiny number of notable exceptions, have done absolutely nothing to oppose him until now? Or why the Metropolitan Police sat on their hands for so many years? Rupert Murdoch was the second person to enter 10 Downing Street after David Cameron was elected as Prime Minister in May 2010. Ed Miliband was at a party thrown by Rupert Murdoch two weeks ago and has admitted he made no criticism, and raised none of the issues he is raising now. Between the Times, The Sun and the News Of The World, Murdoch has long been able to destroy the career of virtually anyone he chooses to turn his dogs loose on, and who knows what he knows about whom, after years of secret phone hacking? Senior politicians and police officers have been described as "terrified" of Murdoch's influence. If Glenn Mulcaine did uncover anything of genuine public interest from phone hacking, not sleazy gossip or stolen moments of private anguish, but something of actual political importance that the people had a right to know, the chances are that it would have never seen the light of day, if it could instead be be kept aside to increase Murdoch's influence over British politicians.

Perhaps we are at the point now where the NOTW has become so toxic that nothing he could now reveal about them can possibly be worse than the effect of continuing to publicly defend it?

Or perhaps not, because despite everything that has been said and despite a petition signed by over a 150,000 people in 72 hours, David Cameron is still refusing to freeze the News Corp takeover of BSkyB.

Social networking sites such as Facebook and Twitter have been absolutely marvelous at showing exactly how outraged the British public is about all of this, and I really hope we manage to keep up the pressure and insist on full and timely public judicial enquiries, that heads will roll and this story does not get kicked into the long grass to be ignored until after the next election. The pressure on advertisers to withdraw from the NOTW came from the public campaign for a boycott, that is a tactic which can be extended to the rest of the Murdoch empire, we should boycott The Sun, The Times, Sky Sports, the fucking lot, and when The Sun on Sunday inevitably rears its ugly head as the newest sphincter in the Murdoch news-arse, we should boycott that too.

And if we dont, if Murdoch is allowed to get that much closer to a monopoly of the British media, I am sure that David Cameron, Jeremy Hunt and the rest of them will certainly reap their rewards.

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