Corrupt British Police hand-in-hand with Murdoch
New Zealand media are covering the Great British Press Scandal in detail.
But the corruption encouraged by Rupert Murdoch’s editors has also festered in an already suspect Scotland Yard.
Our London correspondent,Tom Aitken, gives the full story —
The Great Rupert Murdoch Scandal
By Tom Aitken
July 12, 2011
The Great Rupert Murdoch Scandal presents, as if in a distorting mirror, a perturbing but often entertaining picture of the discontents currently angering the citizens of Britain.
First of all, the government and the parliament from which it is drawn.
The Murdoch rumpus followed close upon the great parliamentary expenses horror. MPs, an agog and outraged nation learnt, were providing themselves with duck houses, underground heating for tennis courts and other financial benefits (the list went on until the crack of doom) at our expense.
The revelations appeared in the pages of The Daily Telegraph, which consequently enjoyed large sales.
Like the Murdoch scandal to come, its reports arose from much undercover investigation of what some of those concerned chose to regard as their private affairs.
But since the reports were clearly in the public interest, MPs’ plaintive cries of pain met with little sympathy.
Instead, there was a groundswell in favour of freedom of the press, freedom of speech for all of us, and freedom from gagging orders and libel proceedings against whistleblowers of various sorts.
Then matters started to get complicated. The general election resulted in a hung parliament and a cobbled together coalition that made and makes no one happy.
Conservative and Liberal Democrat voters alike feel betrayed by the roping together of their parties to form a government which, inevitably, is neither fish, flesh nor fowl.
There was also a sense that few of the leading ministers, including the PM, had any clear idea of what they should do about the economic crisis, and the large social problems facing Britain today.
This, many people thought, might have something to do with the fact that a large number of them seemed to have gone from Eton (or other similar Arcadian academies) to Oxford, thence into politics, without first acquiring any knowledge of what goes on, and is thought, in the country at large.
The second element in Britain’s discontent is the press. In this connection, it fell to David Cameron to perpetrate the most egregious error, damaging to himself and possibly to the government at large.
He appointed the recently ejected editor of The News of the World, his friend Andy Coulson, as his communications chief.
Coulson had resigned under a sizeable cloud, to whit, claims that phone hacking was a tool of choice for some of the paper’s senior reporters, who were giving senior policemen large bribes in return for sensitive information. However he assured his friend David Cameron that that he was innocent and his appointment followed.
To this day Coulson continues to claim that he knew nothing. London pressmen, by and large, regard this claim as either a barefaced lie or an admission of total incompetence.
In either case, what was Cameron thinking of when he invited him into Downing Street at the heart of government?
Later came evidence that the activites of News of the World (NOTW) had actually hindered police enquiries, particularly in the case of the murdered teenager, Millie Dowler.
This was not the only count against the Metropolitan Police to concern the public at large.
Their handling of public demonstrations against cuts and rising costs, particularly in connection with tertiary education, caused immense concern.
People of all ages, from early teenagers to hoary pensioners, were ‘kettled’, that is to say penned up, for hours, in severe cold and with no access to toilets and nowhere to sit except the pavement.
The complaint is that police have overreacted and have acted illegally. British people have a longstanding right to take to the streets (peacefully) when they have something to protest about.
In recent years, there has been an increase in the social range and age of articulate, even eloquent, people prepared to do just that.
University teachers, students, school pupils, clerics, rock stars (many of whom are a lot more eloquent and rational than they sometimes sound) have been marching with placards, shouting slogans, insisting that their voices be heard and their concerns taken into account.
When police respond with physical aggression and temporary informal imprisonment, this new wave of protesters is outraged and extremely unlikely to remain cowed and silent.
The news that senior police persons had accepted bribes (by inference extremely large ones) to assist a tabloid newspaper guilty of vile and anti-social behaviour, has ignited a slow-burning disapproval which will take the Met a long time to live down.
Some quite senior policemen have defended the force by claiming that they are discouraged from working quickly and in a commonsensical way by an oppressive bureaucracy which demands that they ‘use procedures’ and ‘meet targets’. This is all too credible.
Equally, the British daily and weekly press can claim, defensively or otherwise, that it is probably the most various in the world and serves every possible kind and level of reader.
The whole range of possible points of view on all matters of current concern is available in print to be bought and read.
It is presented in every possible way, from the hugely long, densely argued articles in The London Review of Books (about half of which are directly or indirectly on matters of social and political concern) right the way down to the punchy vulgarities of the Daily Sport.
Some of this coverage is scurrilous and disgusting, and, it has to be said, so far as the ‘celebrity’ element in its subject matter is concerned, exhibitionist. And, it is worth adding, the scurrility has been uninterruptedly present since the eighteenth century.
There is, I would argue, always a need for the general public be kept informed as far as possible, of the activities of those who influence our society but would prefer those activities and their influence not to be disturbed by questions and criticism from the statistically overwhelming majority which is the rest of us.
The press is one force within society that might help us to resist their presumption. But to continue doing that as it should, it must also keep its own house in order. It should report on events without secretly manipulating them.
What have Murdoch and his empire to do with all this? Is he on the side of freely available information and comment or does he merely wish to sell news adapted to fit his own view of the world as profitably as possible?
Perhaps I had better confess that, as an occasional contributor to The Times Literary Supplement, I have taken the Murdoch shilling.
My excuse is that the TLS is a valuable paper. The world would be poorer without it––and, conversely, Murdoch would probably be richer without it. If it makes a profit, it must be a very small one. But it probably doesn’t.
Is it there to lend a touch of culture to the portfolio? If I am helping Mr Murdoch keep his fig leaf precariously in place, so be it.
To be fair, it has to be said that Mr Murdoch is not by any means without useful abilities in the matter of newspaper production. I think, for example, that few London journalists or British readers mourn the demise of the print unions, which, before 1986 could and did bring papers to a standstill in mid-print run. Murdoch saw them off when he moved The Times to fortress Wapping in that year.
Do Wellington readers know that in 1964 Murdoch won a four-way shoot-out to take control of The Dominion? Does anybody remember that in that same year he founded Australia’s first national newspaper, The Australian and that it was for a time a shining example of up-market journalism?
It was also, of course, in the context of the time, a bid for respectability. Does he any longer worry about such a boringly middle class quality?
The reaction against Murdoch in the British newspaper and media world has in fact, virtually nothing to do with newspapers, but everything to do with his desire to complete his intended total takeover of the satellite broadcaster BSkyB.
If he succeeds in grabbing complete control of that giant, he will reportedly be sitting on a yearly profit (not a turnover, a profit) of 1 billion pounds.
In addition he would be in command of broadcast media in Britain. And, to come full circle in this commentary, he would be even more in command of British governments than he has been for the last thirty years.
One by one, Thatcher, Blair, Brown and Cameron have worshipped at his shrine and his newspapers have repaid them in kind. (I’m not sure about Mr Major.)
In addition to his other qualities, it should be added that Murdoch loathes the BBC. I am not among those who share his view.
It is his longing to take full charge of BSkyB that led him, when push came to shove on July 8, to pull the rug from under The News of the World, his most profitable newspaper. One billion pounds means so much more.
It is also the reason why, although he could have quieted much wrath by sacking Rebekah Brookes, News International’s CEO and, before that, editor of The News of the World, he did not do so. She is too toughly useful and, it is widely supposed, knows too much to be let go.
She, I need hardly add, denies any knowledge of hacking and bribing, attracting the same pejorative remark about lying or incompetence as is levelled at Andy Coulson. )
Bizarrely, before becoming one of Murdoch’s closest henchpersons she began her journalistic career exercising her fluent French for the Parisian review Architecture d’Aujord’hui.)
Even Rebekah’s friend David Cameron (they are country neighbours in Oxfordshire) has said he would have accepted the resignation she is rumoured to have offered.
If, as we have to suppose, Murdoch was careful to have had no knowledge of what was going on, then she is the one who should carry the can.
Her former colleagues on the now defunct NOTW have good reason for their bitterness. ‘We were sacked and a great paper destroyed so that she could stay on,’ was the burden of their complaint.
As with so many of Murdoch’s papers we might question ‘great’, but NOTW was an institution with a long and colourful history, it fulfilled a need, and will be missed.
If every newspaper in Britain that had ever overstepped the mark in some direction or other were to be shut down, few would be left.