Thursday, 7 July 2011

The End Of The (News of the) World

There was less than 24 hours between me writing a blog condemning The News of the World for their utter lack of moral or journalistic standards and said paper being closed down by the Murdoch family. Now I’m not saying the two are necessarily linked, but maybe I need to be careful, perhaps I don’t know the strength of my own journalism.

In all seriousness though I don’t think anyone expected Murdoch to take this step, or at least not so soon. James Murdoch, son of Rupert and the man who currently is chairman of News Corporation said in an official statement that the 168 year old newspaper’s Sunday edition would be it’s last. He said: “The News of the World is in the business of holding others to account. But it failed when it came to itself.” Here is a link to the statement in full.

It’s a surprising but perhaps wise move to attempt to deflect the criticism away from him and his family and draw a clear line under the scandal. However I am of the opinion that that can’t be allowed to happen; shutting the paper down is a meaningless gesture if the higher up staff members who were responsible or at least complicit in the behaviour don’t face the correct criminal charges. By that I mean that making hundreds of journalists, copy editors and picture desk staff redundant is not just hollow but also arguably cruel, if Rebecca Brooks and a number of other key staff members are just shifted into a different high paid job within the Murdoch empire.

The decision was almost certainly influenced by two factors; firstly, one by one advertisers were pulling out from the paper and in the current climate no newspaper can survive without advertising revenue for any length of time, there was no indication that the situation at the paper was going to improve or it become viable again for big companies to be linked to the paper, so they are in one way just cutting their financial losses now rather than trying to play King Cnut and hold back the inevitable. The second factor is that by shutting down the now diseased institution the Murdoch empire hope that they will be seen to have reduced their share of the UK market and acted in the “proper” manner, so as to improve their chances of succeeding in their attempted total takeover of BSkyB, a takeover which looked safe until the latest string of revelations and has looked in serious doubt this week as the government has come under increasing pressure to carry out a full and thorough investigation into the stranglehold on competition the move would give them and simply whether the key board members are morally fit to be gaining such a share of the UK media pie. It perhaps will even allow Murdoch to keep hold of Sky News, something that looked like it would have to be sacrificed previously in order for any deal to go ahead.

It’s also been an interesting example of the power Twitter can have on big corporations, as a number of individuals, including liberal blogger Sunny Hundal, have attempted to organise the campaign to pressure advertisers to pull out of the paper, making sure no company could claim not to know the strength of public opinion. Twitter offers the chance to organise masses of people to make simple, yet telling actions which can have a much grander result than the humble action would suggest.

There’s rumours going around, and could be backed up by something Murdoch mentioned in passing in his statement, that the family have handed the police a paper trail leading right to Andy Coulson’s desk, and that he may be arrested within a day or two, but that is one I’ll have to keep an eye on.

Another element that the closure of the paper cannot be allowed to bury is the police involvement, with allegations of some officers taking up to £30,000 from journalists for stories and information. This is just as serious as the hacking and needs to have an inquiry into both these specific allegations and any questions of how widespread this corruption is.

Ed Milliband, Nick Clegg and every other MP have a responsibility to make sure Cameron is forced to hold judge led inquiry into the scandal. This goes beyond party politics and has to be treated as such, both Labour and the Conservatives have been a little too cosy with Murdoch and his empire for the past three decades and they can’t allow the power of the empire to put them off from making sure they are properly investigated.

The fallout from this afternoon’s decision will be being felt in both British politics and the national media for months if not years, and it will be a long time before anyone can say how big a blow this will be to Murdoch, how big a step it was towards the responsible people being held accountable and the victims being properly compensated.

Though I feel no sorrow for the passing of The News of the World, an institution clearly so corrupt it couldn’t be allowed to survive, I do feel sorry for the huge number of staff at the paper who I am sure played no part in these scandals, who just wanted to work at a newspaper and earn a sufficient wage to support their families.

It is for these innocent people who are losing their jobs, that we have to ensure that the staff higher up the ladder, the board members and even the Murdoch’s themselves face the repercussions for their actions and for the atmosphere they allowed to develop within the newspaper. We as a nation, both as individuals through social media and petitions and our elected officials need to keep the pressure on the Murdochs, on the Government and on the police to do the right thing and see that the responsible parties feel the full force of the law.

For more information and all the latest news and opinion, The Guardian are doing a live blog as I write, so check that out here.

Today's song is off of the most recent Frank Turner album, one which has been stuck in my head all day, so now hopefully it can be stuck in your's too.

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