The Plastic Hippo

July 14, 2011

The end of the world

Filed under: History,Media,Politics,Society — theplastichippo @ 3:53 pm

“Our reputation is more important than the last hundred million dollars”.
Rupert Murdoch

There is a lot of garbage written about history, particularly in the so-called popular press. Momentous events such as the transfer of a footballer for some obscene amount of money or the decision to broadcast some dreadful soap five days a week are inevitably marked by headlines screaming “The day that changed history” or “World holds its breath” or some other such tosh. History, however, does not change in a single day as individual events are the result of cause and effect that is almost geological in its time-scale.

When a couple of Boeings vaporised into the World Trade Center and two more embedded themselves into the Pentagon and a field in Pennsylvania, the world and our perception of the world certainly changed. But the history that caused those terrible events can be traced back through Richard Lionheart, sixth century Mecca, zero century Bethlehem and back even to some bloke call Abraham. Sadly, Abraham is not available to give testimony under oath before Lord Justice Leveson.

The humiliation of News Corps, News International and Rupert Murdoch has been a long time coming and there is a possibility that humiliation will lead to downfall. However, the self-congratulatory back-slapping echoing around Westminster rings hollow and the lynch-mob witch-burning rhetoric of politicians has come a little too late. After decades of disproportionate influence, MPs have finally woken up to the fact that pandering to the ego of a wealthy, unpleasant and avaricious individual is not in the best interests of democracy. Only weeks ago, our elected representatives were happy to eat his vol-au-vents, quaff his Chardonnay and turn a blind eye to the dirty deeds of Wapping in the hope of patronage. It took the hacked phone of a murdered child to change all that. The victors will once again write history but the fact remains that it required the lonely courage and tenacity of Tom Watson and Chris Bryant together with Nick Davies at the Guardian to expose the depth of moral bankruptcy at the heart of News International. Now that the beast is safely in a hole, everyone wants a turn at throwing stones.

There has been a long and ignoble history of press barons controlling society through influence, threats of blackmail and overt criminal activity. All, until now, have been tolerated by government.

The mad ramblings of My Lord Beaverbrook at the Express still resonates in the bizarre obsessions of its current proprietor.

My Lord Northcliffe claimed to have “won” the First World War by forcing Asquith out of office and replacing him with Lloyd George.

My Lord Rothermere, Northcliffe`s brother, endorsed the British Union of Fascists and openly supported Hitler. The noble brothers tried to get rid of Stanley Baldwin who was able to offer the words of his own cousin, a certain Rudyard Kipling, in response.

“Power without responsibility – the prerogative of the harlot through the ages.” How strangely apt.

Not many shed a tear when Robert Maxwell was found bobbing off the Canary Islands just as his criminal activities became evident and who can forget the silence of his sons when they were dragged before a House of Commons Select Committee. Incidentally, the Maxwell boys were the last publishers to be summoned to the House. The prospect of Tom Watson taking on Rebekah Brooks next week will be well worth a pay-per-view ring-side seat.

My Lord Conrad Black of Crossharbour has just been sent back to jail.

History will prove that the difference between these villains of ancient days and the imminent collapse of the Murdoch dynasty is the existence of the new fangled internet thingy. Madmen like Northcliffe, Rothermere and Beaverbrook did not have to deal with 24 hour broadcast news, awkward questions from MPs or, more importantly, scrutiny by social media.

Given that independent, verifiable news is now freely available and that circulation figures are going in the same direction as News International share prices, the printed press has replaced 18 hour old headlines with gossip, tittle-tattle and warped opinion. The fact that someone called Cheryl Cole can command the front pages of the red-tops for a week is clear evidence that newspapers are finished. When a former Prime Minister complains that the medical records of his infant child was considered news worthy, the Sun responded with the banner headline “Brown Wrong”. The Daily Mail decided that the accidental death of a child was linked to industrial action by teachers and, today, the disgraceful Daily Star ran “Beckham Boy Stabbed to Death” on the front page. The boy was not related to the footballer and became a “Beckham boy” because he was once photographed standing next to the celebrity. Jesus H Christ.

There are those that cling to the notion that the printed press can survive and that the “hounding” of News International and the closure of the News of the World is in some way a curtailment of a free press that challenges governments and uncovers corruption and crime. The press, however, is not free when it is controlled by unaccountable oligarchs happy to peddle human misery for profit.

It’s not just the nationals that are doomed. Here, the Express and Star with the largest regional circulation in Britain, has its shoddy reporting repeatedly de-bunked via Twitter and the increasingly vibrant Walsall blogging scene. Local news is being reported in real time and the local rag is constantly playing catch-up with local stories. Yesterday, news of a pot hole and road closure in Pelsall was across social media within minutes. The plodding dinosaur that is the E&S online presence took hours to report the story and even then got it wrong. The “10 foot chasm” turned out to be a pot hole the size of one of the dinner plates set before Blair, Brown and Cameron at a Murdoch function. A particularly insensitive columnist at the E&S also suggested that “nobody died” as a result of the phone hacking scandal. Well, his newspaper along with the rest will die as a result and free, independent websites such as our own cherished YamYam will prosper.

In his desire to get his hands on the pots of money generated by BSkyB, rumours are circulating that the suddenly avuncular Rupert will sell his British newspapers and that the Sun on Sunday will become a free sheet financed by advertising. With readers, advertisers and investors preferring an extended holiday at the core of the Fukushima nuclear plant, Uncle Rupe might be advised to put his titles up on E-bay with, given his current reputation, a reserve price of nothing.

He might also to minded to cast an eye over the final days of the Roman Republic at around 100BC. Cicero might have offered him this advice:

“Take from a man his reputation for probity, and the more shrewd and clever he is, the more hated and mistrusted he becomes.”
Marcus Tullius Cicero

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