Sunday, 17 July 2011

The Fall of the House of Murdoch


Prying, prurient, yellow journalism is very unpleasant, malicious, wicked in many cases and ruins people’s lives. But it is a sign of a free society. Privacy laws are a great enemy of freedom. So are laws preventing you smoking in your car or being rude about other people's religion.

However, the British public is in one of its periodical fits of morality and it is enormous fun. Having driven so many people to ruin by revelations it is riveting to see Rupert Murdoch and his court on the receiving end. I can't help be put in mind of Adolf Hitler in the bunker and his diaries published by News International  that unfortunately turned out to be forged. As Elisabeth Murdoch curses her brother James or is it Rebekah Wade one feels Sophocles would have done justice to this drama. Lord Dacre might have been the Chorus. 

"Even in Palermo, this would raise eyebrows" says the Daily Telegraph about allegations that  News International hacked into voicemail messages of unsuspecting persons. An unfavourable comparison with how they order things in Southern Europe, more than that the dear old Telegraph cannot say.

Well, I loathe the Murdoch press too. Murdoch debauched the tabloid press after he bought the Sun and he did so because he understood the people's preference for schadenfreude and titillation  rather than enlightenment. But is that his fault or that of his readers? A bit of both, I'd say.

Much of the current fuss about Murdoch is exaggerated but the damage he did the monarchy in particular is his greatest offence and unforgivable.  Although the Conservative Party forgave it.

I suppose David Cameron and his predecessors felt they had little choice just as Blair and Brown felt they needed to smother Murdoch with love. Peter Oborne says that at first Cameron tried to lead the Tories without treating with News International and found it didn’t work.

The  News of the World’s transcripts of the Prince of Wales’s bugged telephone conversations in 1992 were greeted with no outcry at all from a public which lapped them up eagerly. We are now told the royal family’s houses and telephones were bugged. But the public in 2011 cannot stomach the telephone of a murdered child from being tampered with.

Yes, the Murdoch press is vile and seems to have broken the law over and over again, has corrupted policemen and politicians, has hacked and bugged. The press needs to obey the present laws and I am delighted by the arrests and hope there are more but I am frightened that we are moving towards a society where it is compulsory to be nice and that this will be an opportunity for politicians to make intrusive bad taste reporting illegal. Thank goodness we know about John Edwards or Paddy Pantsdown. But I despise this public interest argument for free speech - any poor vicar's or actor's life is also, very unfortunately for them, fair game.

Everyone who writes about this including my favourite journalists is parti pris which is a great shame. Janet Daly is one of the few who breaks ranks. In the Sunday Telegraph today she argues presciently that this furore betokens limits on freedom of expression. And points out that the Murdoch press used its power inter alia to argue against a powerful E.U. and a powerful state. 

This is the rub. The Murdoch tabloids did foul things and supported the disastrous government of Tony Blair. Perhaps News international’s support was the key reason why we followed the USA into the disastrous war in Iraq. But the BBC, Guardian and the Independent for high-minded reasons that do them credit have a much worse track record of being disastrously wrong on the issues of our times. Europe, immigration, crime, the size of the state, etc., etc. But people nowadays are much more concerned about privacy and comfort and good behaviour than they are about an old-fashioned, rather American idea like freedom.

Matthew Parris behind the pay wall in the Times lists twenty things we all know are true but which we shall pretend to be scandalised by when they are revealed in the press. Please don’t then ask me to pretend to be shocked. As each in its due time surfaces, please don’t come over all indignant when (as I no doubt shall) I suggest that this news is hardly a surprise. Please don’t protest that (as the deceased Scottish sinner at the gates of Hell protested): “I didna ken.” As the Devil replied to the sinner: “Ye ken noo.” C’mon, reader, ye ken already.

 (I always thought it was God who said: "Well, ye ken noo.")

His list includes prison officers dealing in drugs,  corrupt police officers and war crimes in Aghanistan. Mine would include corruption among civil servants involved in procurement, corruption in local government especially when it comes to planning permission, the huge wastefulness of the race realtions industry, Muslim extremists funded by public money and the sale of peerages and honours. 

And then there are all the things which are not secrets at all, but are never discussed, like the slaughter of unborn babies, which we know is murder but nevertheless condone.

Stop Press: Rebekah (grim cognomen) Brooks has been arrested a couple of hours after I wrote this. Has she been arrested to prevent her being questioned by MPs on Tuesday? Or even - is this paranoid? - to protect the police? Why arrest her when she says she has been asking them to question her since January? My instinct tells me Scotland Yard is very deeply involved. (I can hardly believe I am saying this.) Their behaviour is more shocking than that of News International. The Telegraph is right -  this is getting like Palermo.

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