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

July 10, 2011

A nice long walk

Filed under: Media,Politics,Society — theplastichippo @ 12:52 am

The News of the World has published its last edition. Love it or loathe it, the scandal sheet has gone, finished, closed, joined the choir invisible, shuffled off this mortal coil, it is no more. It is an ex-newspaper. Stay tuned for your super soar away Sun on Sunday.

In its final editorial, the paper opened with a quote from George Orwell:

“It is Sunday afternoon, preferably before the war. The wife is already asleep in the armchair, and the children have been sent out for a nice long walk. You put your feet up on the sofa, settle your spectacles on your nose, and open the News of the World.”

Lovely. This idyllic image of British family life sets the exact tone to celebrate the unfortunate passing of a British institution. As British as roast beef and Yorkshire pudding, the editorial tells us that the NOTW is “part of the fabric of Britain” and goes on to list the many campaigns it has championed. Toys for the children of servicemen and women, the Military Covenant, child protection, cyber bullying and demanding the right for a mob to attack paediatricians.

As British as roast beef, the paper is owned by an Australian who became a citizen of the US for tax purposes and pays nothing into the British treasury yet has controlled the decisions of numerous British Prime Ministers. As British as Yorkshire pudding, the paper ran stories hacked from the phones of a dead child, dead servicemen, the families of murdered children and the victims of terrorist atrocities. Whoever wrote the editorial says that he or she is proud of the News of the World, the Worlds Greatest Newspaper. One doubts that he or she will send their own children out for a nice long walk without a mobile phone to be hacked in case of abduction and violent death.

Eric Blair, no relation to the former Prime Minister who allegedly called Gordon Brown to urge him to tell Tom Watson and Chris Bryant to stop asking questions about phone hacking, will be turning in his grave. Orwell wrote an essay in 1946 entitled “Decline of the English Murder”. In it he explored the British attitude and appetite for sensational and gory reports of horrible crime. He laments the passing of “proper” murders through poisoning and the subsequent covering of tracks as reported in newspapers like the News of the World. Now, the News of the World opens its closing editorial with his words and, as is befitting a newspaper reliant on half truth, misses the point entirely.

Orwell loathed the chequebook journalism of the News of the World and he now joins the dead children and their families, the dead servicemen and victims of terrorism in having his name abused in the name of profit and circulation. The author of the final News of the Word editorial left out a crucial line from the Orwell quote. Here is what Orwell went on to say:

“It is Sunday afternoon, preferably before the war. The wife is already asleep in the armchair, and the children have been sent out for a nice long walk. You put your feet up on the sofa, settle your spectacles on your nose, and open the News of the World.

And what will you read? Naturally, about a murder.”

In the coming weeks, we will read about the murder of truth. The world is a better place without the News of the World.

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.

July 6, 2011

Mother`s pride

Filed under: Rights,Society — theplastichippo @ 9:43 am

There are some birthday gifts that have more to do with the giver rather than the receiver. Train sets, guitars and footballs from dad and the DVD of Mr Darcy taking his shirt off and jumping into a lake from mum come with hidden motives.

So it was with the “indestructible” Tech Team radio controlled Gunship helicopter bought as a birthday present from the best toy shop in the world on Regent Street. With three channels and an auto-stabiliser function to counteract yaw and spin, the “indestructible” flying machine was broken within a week. But with a lifetime guarantee, the 60 odd quid would not be money totally wasted. Rather than pay for the postage and packaging to return the downed chopper to the shop, we decided that another trip to the big smoke was in order.

Holding firmly to our working class, socialist principles, the family took to the privatised railway to visit that there London with three distinct tasks. Firstly, to replace the boy’s helicopter. Secondly, to take in a performance of Much Ado About Nothing at the Globe Theatre and thirdly, to view the summer show at the Royal Academy. With tickets to hear the Sharapova v Kvitova orgasmic grunt fest in SW19 unavailable, our proletarian zeal would have pleased Karl Marx.

The long march from Euston along the Tottenham Court Road and then Oxford Street saw warning signs of road closures, diversions and people dressed in some rather unusual costumes. Ah yes, of course, Saturday was the day of the London Pride march and rally.

With the helicopter successfully replaced, we abandoned the plan to attend the 2-00pm matinee of Much Ado and decided to watch the parade. With elbows spread along the crowd barriers outside Hamleys, we considered flying in formation with the police helicopter overhead but the batteries needed charging. At this point, with the start of the march delayed, the hippo made a tactical withdrawal to an old favourite watering hole off Carnaby Street to enjoy a pint of, what else, London Pride.

Thus refreshed and back at the barricades, the parade started with Peter Tatchell and Ken Livingston being mobbed by photographers. One pap was particularly entertaining. Desperate for a money shot, he screamed: “Go on Ken, give him a kiss.” Ken declined, smiled weakly at the cameras, lay back and thought of Boris. Then, after the inevitable bloody samba percussion band, we got to see the gorgeous frocks.

In times gone by, Pride was more confrontational than celebratory. But now, with the involvement of respectable corporate interests such as Tesco, British Airways and even Nandos, a bit of outrageous exhibitionism in Regent Street on a sunny Saturday afternoon provoked only warm smiles and encouragement from the predominately straight onlookers. If the event has become more anodyne over the years, that does not detract from the courage required to take part or the elation of human beings freely expressing their identity. The public displays of affection were still sufficiently heartfelt and the love in the air was more informative for the younger hippos than any PSHE lesson. The fact that such an event has become less shocking is testament to how far we have come in respecting the rights of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people.

Apart from the helicopter overhead, the only visible police presence took the form of ranks of uniformed gay and lesbian Met officers marching proudly behind gay and lesbian members of the Royal Navy, the Army and the Royal Air Force. Even leaders of the Scouting Movement, Methodists, Catholics, Sikhs, Jews and the wonderfully self-named Queer Quakers joined the march, interspersed with rugby clubs, volley ball clubs, lawyers, drag queens and roller skating lesbians. One couple pushed a pram containing a tiny baby. Affixed to the pram was a sign that read “Hatched by two chicks”. The two women were greeted with cheers and applause.

But the biggest cheer was awarded to an open topped bus full of young, gay and lesbian Muslims. Their banner read “Some Muslims are gay. Get over it.” At this point, a tear of joy had to be wiped from the hippo’s eye. There is still hope for us all.

Apart from the publicity addicts at the front in the shape of Tatchell and Livingston, other politicians dared to take part. A large contingent of Libdems and a tiny group of Tories found themselves in the now unique position of actually being applauded for their stance. In any other circumstances they would expect a barrage of boos and empty bottles. Sexuality, in seems, unifies rather than divides.

The only hint of aggression, trouble or violence came at the corner of Waterloo Place where a group of Baptists had gathered. In the true Christian spirit of compassion, understanding and the love of humanity they heckled the marchers informing them that their “deviant” life style would result in them “burning in hell” due to their “sinful abomination”. These taunts were returned with smiles, waves and the offer of a hug, all rejected by the born-agains. The hippo could not resist informing one of the evangelicals that Jesus never married and was rather friendly with John the Baptist. Have you ever seen a bright pink and very angry fundamentalist?

Dispatching that particular nutter to the deepest pit of hell was the low point of the day. The high points, however, included witnessing the sheer joy of free expression and a restoration in faith in humanity, particularly the proud parents supporting their gay and lesbian children. After all that, seeing the piece by Jeff Koons in the courtyard of the Royal Academy was slightly anti-climactic. Jeff might not be to everyone’s taste but even so, his “Coloring Book” is simply stunning.

Having replaced the toy helicopter, perhaps the best gift offered to the boy was allowing him to witness Pride. Due to his teenage peer group vocabulary, there has been a tendency for him to dismiss weak or ineffectual occurrences or ideas by saying “that is so gay”. After being hugged by a man wearing only a studded leather thong and having received a big smacker on the cheek from a six foot six drag queen, he may realise that prejudice, discrimination and intolerance is not the way forward.

After that, he is free to fly his helicopter wherever he likes.

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