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Hackgate

Delighted though I am to see the ongoing humiliation of Rupert Murdoch, I fear that the story is not going to end well.

There are two big issues: the disgusting journalistic techniques of the tabloid press, and Murdoch's stifling control of the media (analysed with gloom by none other than Charles Moore in his piece this morning, "I'm starting to think that the Left might actually be right").

The closure of the News of the World solves neither problem. It deprives Murdoch of some of his share of the overall media scene, but he remains dominant; and while of course it is good that he has been prevented from expanding his satellite TV holdings further, that actually is not a defeat, it is a potential victory which may have been only deferred rather than thwarted. Any response short of dismantling Murdoch's control of the media is a failure.

As for the hacking itself, the NotW was unfortunate in that they got caught, but they were certainly not the only guilty newspaper and equally certainly not the worst - it's pretty obvious from any reasonable analysis of the UK media scene that the NotW is far exceeded in malevolence and gutter journalism by the Daily Mail. Any fix to this situation that does not have the Daily Mail (and the others) screaming is a failure.

One part of the answer became clear to me in the fuss over superinjunctions a few months ago. As a non-UK resident I had no qualms whatever about researching the details of some of the superinjunctions. And I came away thinking that in fact all the ones I could find details on were entirely reasonable; the injustice was that these measures were available only to the rich, and not also to the average person subjected to tabloid abuse. There is no public interest in revealing anyone's sex life, rich or poor, as far as I can see. Any response which does not give privacy rights to all citizens is a failure.

What chance of success? You tell me.

Comments

( 20 comments — Leave a comment )
mountainkiss
Jul. 23rd, 2011 11:55 am (UTC)
Not all of them are reasonable, I think. Are you familiar with the one in John Hemmings's constituency?
nwhyte
Jul. 23rd, 2011 12:03 pm (UTC)
If I have identified the one you are referring to, I think bankers - even dodgy bankers - are as entitled to privacy about their sex lives as anyone else.
mountainkiss
Jul. 23rd, 2011 12:06 pm (UTC)
No, not that one. This is of a different type entirely.

I'm conflicted about the banking one. I used to work for the woman involved, and I really do think that the culture that both led to and was driven by that behaviour (which was rife) was a huge part of cause of the bank's collapse. So I think there are arguments both ways.
matgb
Jul. 23rd, 2011 01:47 pm (UTC)
That's not a superinjunction, and I really wish John would stop conflating the two (in fact, most of them aren't superinjunctions, they're privacy injunctions, but that's a different thing).

Family Law is a bit of a mess and from what I've seen John's got a point. But typical John, he's botching the point badly and alienating potential allies--I can supply links to good analysis on what he's doing wrong if you want it.
mountainkiss
Jul. 23rd, 2011 01:54 pm (UTC)
That's sad if so, because that case does sound from the outside to be an appalling miscarriage of justice.
matgb
Jul. 23rd, 2011 01:58 pm (UTC)
It is, to an extent, hence my annoyance with John, as he's conflating the privacy "superinjunctions" being issued under the right to privacy within the HRA, and the significantly different Family Law privacy and secrecy issues designed specifically to protect children from publicity of any kind that do appear to have been made with good intentions but have become extended beyond reasonable intent.
mountainkiss
Jul. 23rd, 2011 02:04 pm (UTC)
Yes, I can completely see that.
purplecthulhu
Jul. 23rd, 2011 12:05 pm (UTC)
There's also the Trafigura super injunction which was not about sex lives but about massive corporate malpractice and abuse of the third world. Not that much of the UK newspaper industry was very interested in it...
nwhyte
Jul. 24th, 2011 12:30 pm (UTC)
Yeah, though that wasn't one of the ones still active at the time I was digging; and it was overturned rather quickly.
inulro
Jul. 23rd, 2011 12:13 pm (UTC)
I've been brewing a post on the subject for a while, and you've come along and said exactly what I was going to say, but far more succinctly and eruditely.

I would only add that a public that has been brainwashed to not know the difference between news and gossip has become a huge contributory factor to the whole sad mess.

peterbirks
Jul. 23rd, 2011 12:37 pm (UTC)
I disagree that Murdoch had a "stifling control of the media". He had a stifling control of the "mass media", but I would contend that the period when the mass media ran information dissemination (starting roughly with Northcliffe and continuing with Rothermere, Beaverbrook, Maxwell and Murdoch) is over, a short-lived interregnum. Information dissemination has been democratized, and savvy news disseminators are now sidestepping the mass media.

In that sense, what are we trying to fix? Few of we liberal elite would deny that the NOTW and the Daily Mail, the Daily Express and several other UK papers were/are a pile of crap, but they exist as commercial enterprises - not (as could perhaps be argued with the case of Fox) as a Beaverbrook-style political agenda. But people buy crap. People want to know tittle-tattle. This Victorian double-standard of "My goodness this is terrible and we are going to spend eight pages telling to about it in full detail" has a long and ignoble history. Scurrilous publications about the elite's sex lives are nothing new -- just look at the cartoons of Caroline of Brunswick. Should George Cruikshank have gone to jail for violating Caroline's right to privacy?

I guess that my point is that if you are to have a free press, then you have to take the rough with the smooth. If you think that the rough is "too rough" then, sure, stop the press being free. But there's no half-way house of "it's a free press provided they take a 'reasonable' line and cover reasonable stories" because that brings in the old "who guards the guardians" argument.

The weird thing here is that the 'free press' argument has actually worked. Your conclusion that
"Any response which does not give privacy rights to all citizens is a failure".
loses as an argument, I think, because the general public is not revolted by the press intruding (perhaps unfairly) into the private lives of those who seek and achieve fame and/or wealth and/or high position, but it IS revolted when the press do the same to "the ordinary man in the street". The newspaper-buying public, as it were, decided that some people (the rich, the famous and the elite) can be treated differently when it comes to privacy.

It's not a perfect world, and nearly all journalists have one major priority when writing a story. That is not: "does this story need to be told?". It is "will the readers like it enough to buy the paper tomorrow for more of the same?" Journalists and editors might occasionally, indeed, often, pretend otherwise, but that's the real bottom line when we are thinking about covering a story.

PJ

___________

inulro
Jul. 23rd, 2011 07:19 pm (UTC)
I wouldn't mind if the gutter press would just stay in the gutter.

My problem is that I can't turn on the BBC or read supposedly quality papers without getting a facefull of commentary on what the gutter press are up to.

I was particularly disappointed during the last superinjunction "scandal" that the BBC and the Independent were crying lack of press freedom. I find it more than a little problematic that practically no one in this country thinks that anyone who has ever done anything in the public eye is entitled to any small measure of privacy. Including people I would like to think better of.


(For the record, I am Not British).
nwhyte
Jul. 24th, 2011 12:39 pm (UTC)
I think the day you look forward to in your first para is coming, but not here yet. The mass media surely remain the key source of information for the vast majority, at least for now.

I don't know a lot about Caroline of Brunswick, except that she was systematically attacked and victimised by her ex-husband and by the British state. I guess there's a case that Cruickshank's cartoons are such wonderful pieces of art that they deserve special consideration, but I'm not going to make it.

I'm not very interested in the idea that the taste of the general public should be determinative of this issue. Legislation is done by legislators, not by referendum, still less by divining theoretical referendum results from the newspaper-buying public's purchasing choices.

Journalists do of course function as you describe, but they also have a mind to what the law states about what they can publish. It's not a case of a completely free press versus a completely controlled press, it's a question of where the law puts the balance, and at present that seems to me to be in the wrong place.
communicator
Jul. 23rd, 2011 12:24 pm (UTC)
However, a significant change is that the LibDem/Tory coalition are no longer going to wave through Murdoch's bid to take over Sky, or abolish the media regulator Ofcom (it remains to be seen whether they will continue their war of attrition against the BBC, but at least it will be scrutinised).

This is significant for two reasons. Firstly of course as an intrinsic good - Murdoch told them to get rid of Ofcom because he saw it as a limiting factor, and its continuing existence is a good in itself.

But secondly, and I think more significantly, the blatant trading of British media opportunity for political support just became much harder. People got wiser.

Compared to this the appetite for titillation - though dreary - is unimportant. The 'sins' of the poor (we like to read about sex) are criticised while the sins of the rich (literal criminal conspiracy) are hand-waved away.
nwhyte
Jul. 24th, 2011 12:41 pm (UTC)
I think the rich like to read about sex as well!
communicator
Jul. 24th, 2011 05:11 pm (UTC)
I certainly intend to when I am rich.
chickenfeet2003
Jul. 23rd, 2011 12:39 pm (UTC)
I think there is a third big issue; the role of the Metropolitan Police. Leaving aside relatively minor, though disturbing, stuff like payments to police officers, what has emerged is a clear picture that the Met is unwilling to investigate the rich and powerful and is quite willing to pressure the media, in this case the Guardian, in order to restrict coverage of its failings. I don't see, and I don't expect to see, anything being done to clean up that cesspit.
sikander7
Jul. 23rd, 2011 05:50 pm (UTC)
NotW
I think you are right in your analysis; the News of the World is certainly not the only paper guilty, but they are the ones who have been caught.
I see it as a cultural problem; why are British people interested in the sex lives of the rich and famous? I'm not. Or is it generated by the British media who can't find a better topic?
mizkit
Jul. 23rd, 2011 09:10 pm (UTC)
Re: NotW
People as a rule are interested in the sex lives of other people because they're nosy and enjoy gossip. I'm pretty sure this has always been the case. But modern media and the 24 hour news cycle and the need to fill the airwaves and make money turns a great deal of things that are really not even vaguely news, like other people's sex lives, into news. Or "infotainment". And celebrity sex lives can fill a lot of time without going anywhere near important issues that both governments and corporations don't want people knowing, much less talking, about, because it's harder to control a knowledgable populace.
nickbarnes
Jul. 23rd, 2011 09:44 pm (UTC)
I'm moderately optimistic about this. Certainly I think this story has a long way to run, and I'd be surprised if the Sun, the Mails, the Mirrors, and the Expresses come out completely unscathed. Without a doubt media ownership rules are going to be rewritten, privacy law is going to be revisited, and the back door of Number 10 will be less frequented in future.

It's a big enough deal that I expect at least one copper to go to jail, and this in a country where the police can murder random strangers on the street in front of hundreds of witnesses and escape jail.
( 20 comments — Leave a comment )

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