Monday, 18 July 2011

Strange Days Indeed

The News International Rolling-News Circus has unfolded almost hourly over the last three weeks and provided untold fascination as the closures, arrests and resignations unfolded.
It's a story which might easily have been rejected by publishers of fiction as being far too unrealistic, with aging media Moguls, flame haired temptresses, Etonian Prime Ministers, sibling rivalry and notorious murders and terrorist atrocities. Francis Wheen's account of the last days Nixon starts to look very unambitious and run-of-the-mill.
There have been two highlights for me.
Firstly the sight of Alastair Cambell, Mr Dodgy Dossier himself, offering a bare-faced critique of News International's PR strategy and ethics in a TV interview which forced me to run to the bathroom to be physically sick. Breathtaking hypocracy.
Secondly, the report of 80 year old Rupert Murdoch flying into Britain and prostrating himself in front of Milly Dowler's Parents and Solicitor, reminiscent of the Diana scenario when the Queen was forced back from Scotland to "pay tribute" to her hated but suddenly sainted ex daughter-in-law.
Now the Murdochs, with or without their red-top, are to be quizzed by MP's and it feels like pay-back time for the expenses scandal when the occupants of Westminster were given such a thorough daily kicking by the press. Axes are being sharpened and the public mood of almost Diana-like mass hysteria is demanding more and more heads.
The amazing thing is that a large part of the wrong-doing has been in the public domain for a long time. Here's a summary from the 2006 Information Commissioner's report into the illegal trafficking and "blagging" of private information based on the Police Investigation into Steve Whittamore and his network of informants:


The conclusion? They were all at it with hundreds of journalists from the Mail to Woman's Own using illicit and illegal means to obtain phone numbers and personal details of celebrities and vulnerable victims. The reason the others have been so quiet is the thought that to spill the beans would become what Guido Fawkes has dubbed a "circular firing squad".
Steve Whittamore and his associates were given mere conditional discharges. The full extent of the behaviour can be seen in Nick Davies's August 2009 Guardian Article which makes sobering reading.
The bottom line is that the public's demand for salacious gossip has pushed far too much of the third estate well over the penalty mark in terms of how information is trafficked, and now we are all coming to realise that it is not just a few pompous celebs being targeted but a great many ordinary and undeserving people.
It would be unfair if Murdoch's Empire were to take the full blame for what every paper has been up to for decades - the smirk on Richard "Dirty" Desmond's face would be too much to take. On the other hand we do need a free press in this Country and some of the major exposures the press have led (such as MP's Expenses) have been based on illegally obtained information.
What we need is a Press Complaints Commission which is independent of the Press themselves, with legal backing to enforce proper financial penalties on those that overstep agreed standards of behaviour. As for the Suppliers of the information, making the phone Companies and Banks more responsible for their staff dishing out private information and having prison sentences involved for anyone illegally accessing DVLA and other databases would be a positive move.
Lets not get too hysterical.

7 comments:

Nota Bene said...

Heartily agree...although I have a particular disrespect for the Murdochs. How we preserve a free press after this debacle is anyone's guess. I'm taking odds on the fall of the coalition out of this...

Dave said...

Gosh Rog, this is a very serious post. Did Oz write it?

As far as I know the Methodist Recorder has so far failed to hack into my mobile (as it's usually switched off). Thank goodness, say I. Let he who is without sin...

Christopher said...

Great post, Rog. '...without or with their redtop...' - best joke of the year. I wondered how long it would be before the Daily Mail would join the comeuppance queue. I used to write for The Northern Scot and occasionally The Times Educational Supplement (Scotland): should I be quaking in my expatrilles?

Martin H. said...

It has ever been thus, Rog. My editor in the early 80s, the late Michael Gabbert, told me stories that should have made my hair curl. However, in the absence of hair, they only served to make my scalp wrinkle slightly.

Have you ever drop in on the Gentlemen Ranters?

Rog said...

Nota: the coalition is our best bet of getting through the credit crisis so I for one hope they survive

Dave: I think the Methodist Recorder may be working on a story about your plumbing.

Christopher: I'd like to have heard the scourge of Auchtermuchty, the great John Junor, on the present problems.

Martin: ah thanks - I'll be following Gentlemen Ranters with interest! I'm the biggest fan of Private Eye as well.

Z said...

Extremely well put, Rog.

Macy said...

The whole NoW saga just keeps growing and growing. I've been holding off posting a comment here in case Cameron resigns next...

WV = Aunt Rat btw!