Save for those with their heads still tucked safely into the underbelly of The Sun’s Bizarre column, the world has been watching the armor of the Murdoch empire unravel with morbid curiosity in the midst of scandals, parliamentary enquiries and financial difficulties. The News International that captivated a mass readership through irreverent, humorous, and polemic tabloids has been beleaguered by The Guardian’s recent exposure of hacking practices. This saga has raised questions about the extent to which newspapers are dissociating individuals from basic freedoms and justice, and further more, alienating the political process. There is an endemic culture of espionage and subterfuge in the British Press that left rooted by failure to properly regulate certain press functions will continue to manifest cases like that of the Milly Dowler hacking.
Garnering the most intimate information and shepherding a devoted flock of readers through current affairs in an unpretentious and accessible way, Murdoch’s popularity with the UK readership over the past half-century has endured. Even the hardened kernel of his critics concede, albeit with a sigh of lament, that The Sun and sister titles have been a daily reading staple of the masses. Yet recent beleaguering blows in the form of the incarceration of Andy Coulson and Rebekah Brooks, as well as televised scrutiny before parliament and the collapse of the controversial BskyB deal that would have bestowed unprecedented power unto Murdoch’s UK media arsenal, comes with immense relief for the public and politicians alike. The sudden opportunity to make accountable a previously impenetrable goliath with long suspected illicit methods is seductive to those despairing that anybody can monopolize public opinion and be seen as a maker or a breaker of elections.
Although mock and spin, at a low level, is a healthy staple of British political culture which vents the frustrations and passions of the electorate, it gained a terrifying momentum in the 2010 General Election campaign, tantamount to bullying. Whilst the Press should be a vehicle for the public interest by making politicians accountable for their behavior, it creates an unwavering momentum for one particular political cause and then ruthlessly dehumanises the opposition regardless of the interminable damage to personal and working lives. One Sun cover story exploited populist sentiment for the armed forces by vilifying Brown for misspelling a dead Soldier’s name, despite the fact that he has well documented sight difficulties which made writing the letter a long and arduous affair that consumed a lot of his care and effort. When Brown was then beset with a common trap for politicians in making off the cuff remarks on a live microphone about a “bigoted woman” (who had been expounding the myth that Eastern Europeans are “stealing” jobs from the British), a Sky News reporter distributed the comments to the deliberate and severe detriment of Brown’s standing in opinion polls, creating a potentially election losing momentum.
People are beginning to see how a high sugar, low fibre diet of trash Journalism still feasting upon the corpse of Michael Jackson is not an innocuous part of society but an ailment to the normal functions of society and democracy. Should these be the lynchpin of our understanding about society? The natural retort is usually “But it’s what the people want!” So what? People crave scandal in the way that people crave opiates and scandal, like heroin, skews perceptions, changes behaviour and has a negative, suppressant effect upon society. This insatiable national demand for more and more and more scandal inspired News International to splay into the protected and private voicemails of vulnerable figures and in doing so, jeopardise individual liberties.
This was all in order to remain fiercely competitive in a media market where prominence would curry political capital for Murdoch. Some sources suggest that this set an industry precedent for subversion beyond News International and that the behavior of titles owned by other proprietors have warranted that they too should be subject to a rigorous inquiry. Following market principles, Murdoch ruthlessly sought to triumph over competitors, pursued at the expense of proper and rigorous ethical standards.
Yet critics wince at the prospect of a more regulated media, and irresponsibly blur the definition of ‘regulated’ and ‘totalitarian.’ When police officers investigating hacking attempts accept large bribes from News International, it means the current law and justice system is insufficient to ensure that the press behaves properly, making state regulation the last option.
Endeavours to open the media market by Conservative and Labour governments have the market, contrarywise, strangled, choking out few words other than those approved on high by the court of Murdoch. Endeavour by the public to get their fix for scandal in a seemingly detached and harmless way, has seen the lives of those deepest in their sympathies crassly scandalised. Endeavour to transform the mire of British press culture into calm and fertile ground will only reach success when politicians and public both acknowledge their role in the spread of a culture not indigenous to the British sensibilities of justice. When the issues are so deep-seated, it is difficult to ascertain whether the end of The News of the World will be the end of the world of the news as we know it.