The Plastic Hippo

July 8, 2011


Filed under: Media,Politics,Society — theplastichippo @ 7:45 pm

1843 was a mixed year in publishing. The rather good Economist was founded and Dickens published A Christmas Carol. On the downside, October 1 saw the first edition of the News of the World. Now, it seems, all human life will no longer be at that publication.

There are those that postulate the theory that the theatrical decision to shut down the NOTW was taken as a response to the growing disgust of the public at revelations of phone hacking. Celebrities, sports stars and dodgy politicians are, of course, fair game for scrutiny. But when it became clear that the paper was employing people to invade the private grief and desperation of its own target audience, all human life turned against the Murdoch caliphate.

This theory is elegantly plausible but is unlikely to be verified. Rupert Murdoch does not accrue £20billion a year by being honourable. The death of the NOTW is an economic necessity brought about by his desire to control broadcast media. With newspapers in decline, the future lies in television and his obsession in taking full control of BSkyB means that sacrifices have to be made. Having already gained the subservience of Cameron, and before him Blair and Brown, the digger needs to threaten the Competition Commission and the Office of Fair Trading. Dumping the NOTW is about securing dominance. Rupert Murdoch does not accrue £20billion a year by being stupid.

Another theory suggests that this is all part of Murdoch’s master plan to introduce a biased, sensational and politically motivated Fox News style television service to the UK. Politicians of all three shades of grey might find the US model of telling an unsophisticated electorate what to think an attractive proposition and this might explain their compliance with the dumbing down and careful selection of news content. By allowing the NOTW brand to become increasingly toxic, the Murdoch family and their lieutenants can distance News International from the stench by shutting it down. This is a rather clever tactic to persuade the Competition Commission that ownership of three rather than four national newspapers will allow for the more lucrative takeover of BSkyB. An added bonus is the opportunity for James Murdoch to crow about taking “moral” decisions and to buy some time to allow for the shredding of evidence and to dig for dirt on the investigating police officers, prosecutors and judges. Closing a strangely popular and therefore profitable newspaper is the only course of action to protect a very small number of very powerful individuals. £20 billion buys a lot of morality.

After years of denial, blind eyes and talk of individual rotten apples, it took the tenacity and courage of MPs like Chris Bryant and Tom Watson to shine a light into the darkness of the Murdoch empire and it took the New York Times and later the Guardian to overturn the apple cart. Others who tried ended up in the cider press of the News International scandal sheets. With the fast moving events of the past few days during which any shreds of credibility and decency have unravelled, there are still some at the highest levels of government, judiciary and the police that walk in fear of Murdoch.

When News International threw Andy Coulson to the wolves by handing over e-mails proving that he authorised payments to police officers, this was more than damage limitation. By scapegoating Coulson as another bad apple, the real motivation was to fire a warning shot at government and the Met in an attempt to force them to back off. The stakes are now even higher and have forced Cameron to finally order a “judge-led” inquiry and an independent inquiry into the performance of the Met, something he was reluctant to do until his relationship with Coulson threatened to inflict terminal damage. The Prime Minister, though, can still not force the word “judicial” from his mouth, still calls Coulson a friend and has not suggested that Brooks should consider her position. The wisdom of employing Coulson after the former editor made an excuse and left the NOTW over phone hacking was questioned at the time and it turns out that Cameron was warned about the toxicity of the tainted hack.

Undeterred, Cameron decided to give Coulson a “second chance”. The noble concept of rehabilitating offenders back into society is both honourable and magnanimous but the very premise of a “second chance” takes as a given that something very, very wrong occurred in the first place. Welcome back, then, David Laws. What he did was only a little bit illegal after all. It’s a shame that a “second chance” will not be extended to schools, care homes, hospitals and the dignity and independence of vulnerable people currently being devastated by Cameron’s government.

It’s not looking good for Coulson. Currently under arrest on suspicion of bribing police officers and evidence emerging that he did know about phone hacking and lied to various select committees, the plods of Strathclyde would also like to have a chat regarding perjury in the Tommy Sheridan phone hacking case. Former Scottish MSP Sheridan, currently residing in Castle Huntly Open Prison after a spell in Barlinnie Jail, was convicted of perjury partly on the evidence offered by Coulson. For good measure, lurid and salacious details of his private life were published, which no doubt swelled Murdoch’s £20 billion and made others think twice about challenging News International. His conviction is now likely to be viewed as unsafe.

With Coulson and Sheridan likely to do a life-swap at Her Majesty’s pleasure, others are certain to hear the slam of the cell door. Rebekah Brooks, however, still enjoys the confidence of Rupert and James Murdoch and the friendship of David Cameron. Helen of Troy might have had a face that launched a thousand ships to start the Trojan Wars, but Rebekah is the face that destroyed a 184-year-old newspaper leaving its former 200 employees to cling to survival with only the £3000 per week unemployment benefit they so readily, repeatedly and wrongly reported on when they had a job.

Mrs Brooks has done rather well with News International after starting as a 20-year-old secretary at the NOTW in 1989. By 2000 she was editor, the youngest of a national newspaper. In 2003 she became the first female editor of the Sun and on her first day in the job, page three carried a photograph of a young woman prepared to take her clothes off for money with the caption “Rebekah from Wapping”. After just 20 years, she became chief executive at News International in 2009.

Even before the phone hacking, of which she knows nothing as she was on holiday, her editorship has not been without controversy. Her headline; “Bonkers Bruno Locked Up” incurred the wrath of mental health charities and her decision to name and shame child sex offenders resulted in some of her readership attacking completely innocent citizens in cases of mistaken identity. Indeed, some of her less literate and excitable audience attacked the home of a paediatrician. As James Murdoch points out, she is the doyen of responsible and quality journalism.

Rebekah is clearly in possession of considerable talents and is a woman to be reckoned with, as former husband, hard-man actor and serial gang infiltrator, Ross Kemp knows. After an alleged assault on him by Rebekah, she was arrested but the police, with what is becoming familiar regularity, did not press charges. Perhaps it is her skills with her fists that keeps the Murdoch boys and Cameron in their place, either that or an in depth knowledge of things that vested interests do not want to be made public.

Some of these secrets might jeopardise Murdoch’s hopes of seizing his latest trophy, BSkyB and no price is too high for Rebekah`s silence. Similarly, if the price of supporting Cameron was a fast-track to BSkyB ownership, then Murdoch has misjudged the anger felt by the public, advertisers and now investors. Then, of course, there is the small matter of OFCOM, a bigger beast than the toothless Press Complaints Commission. To be granted a licence to broadcast, a company must be led by “fit and proper” people. OFCOM, usually easily manipulated by government, are already sniffing the air with distaste. Apart from the growing weight of evidence of systemic criminal activity, the cynical targeting of innocent and distressed people for the sake of a story, circulation and therefore profit, is proof that the likes of father and son Murdoch, Brooks and Coulson are not to be trusted in even handing out the free papers at bus and railway stations early in the morning.

The vast majority of people working at News International are, of course, hard-working, talented and honest. There are bad apples in every organisations. Sadly for the News of the Screws, the tiny group of villains are gathered at the top of the tree. There is a vast difference in definition between “fit and proper” and, to use the vernacular of Sun and NOTW caption writers, “proper fit”. Rebekah of Wapping has moved from page three to page one.


  1. Sorry, I don’t buy this poor foot soldiers thing. I keep hearing it, but it doesn’t tally.

    In the course of my life I’ve worked for organisations I’d rather not. I’m sure we all have, and maybe still do. Sometimes, it’s necessity. But to argue that you can work for a paper that lied to engender cheap hatred of the immigrant, the gay, the disabled and somehow accommodate that into any normal moral compass is bizarre. Working for News International is one thing – on the News of the Screws is another. Were all these good people under the impression they were producing knitting patterns?

    Turning out some of the utter shite that paper has turned out would render most with a conscience physically sick. If you lie down with dogs, chances are you’ll wake up with fleas. I couldn’t support that and sleep. But then, I’m a bleeding heart leftie with a thing about expecting truth.

    There seems to be a common disconnection from many in the world of journalism and the effect they have on the lives of others. It’s great to discuss, for instance the inventiveness with language, the liveliness of the text. What’s never spoken about is the poor guy who’s kicked in the head at 2am because he happened to be a random member of one of the target groups subjected to a shocking expose purveyed purely to sell papers.

    They knew what they were involved with. If you live on the cutting edge, chances are you’ll bleed.

    This is the bankruptcy we’re dealing with: – Steve Coogan does nothing for me, but this just nails it.

    Best wishes


    Comment by BrownhillsBob — July 9, 2011 @ 10:35 am | Reply

  2. […] of all, The Plastic Hippo has written a great post on the subject of the morals and demise of the News of the World; I don’t agree with his final statement but he makes an intelligent, incisive analysis which […]

    Pingback by Gentlemen of the press? « BrownhillsBob's Brownhills Blog — July 9, 2011 @ 12:25 pm | Reply

  3. read this and then tell me they were concerned with ‘truth’ and ‘public interest’
    it’s all about ratings/readers/bums on seats, and it was ever thus

    Comment by martin — July 10, 2011 @ 11:16 pm | Reply

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