Tuesday, 12 July 2011

The News of our World

Barely an hour goes by without another revelation in the phone hacking scandal that has engulfed the British media, police and political classes over the last week or so. Triggered initially by the unlikely scenario of actor Hugh Grant turning the tables on a former tabloid journalist who had bugged his calls, a rolling stone of gargantuan proportions seems to have crushed the vested interests that control huge swathes of our media. Tonight, headlines proclaiming the end of News International and the destruction of Rupert Murdoch's empire are emblazoned across several media sites.

And yet is it so? Or is the media simply playing its own game, for once at home rather than away?

While the scandal is certainly a tour de force of the incestuous relationship between our Masters, it is yet to reach any game changing watershed where the system is so broken that we finally break it down and replace it with something transparent and genuinely democratic.

It was perplexing today to listen to ex-Metropolitan Police Commissioner Andy Hayman giving his testimony to a Parliamentary Select Committee. As well as accepting a job with News International after investigating it for hacking, this was his response to Chairman Keith Vaz's suggestion that accepting dinner invitations from people under investigation might be seen as inappropriate:

"Not having dinner [with NI chiefs] would have been more suspicious than having it", says Hayman. The committee laughs. "We're astonished at how you're answering these questions", says Vaz, when Hayman asks why they're laughing. 

From the voicemail of murder victim Millie Dowler, through the grieving families of soldiers killed in Iraq and Afghanistan to today's revelations that even Prime Minister Gordon Brown's family medical information and bank accounts were being hacked into by the gutter press - the media's dark soul has been exposed in a huge cloud of sulphur. Suddenly, after all manner of hesitation, the politicians who previously courted Murdoch are out baying for blood. Tomorrow, the three main parties will combine to demand that Murdoch withdraws his proposed takeover of BSkyB television, prompting the hyperbolic headlines of his media rivals.

And yet...do we honestly believe that only News International have hacked people's telephones? That only the NI stable have intruded inappropriately on people's privacy, peddling papers on stories of misfortune and grief? Do we really think for a moment that, once two or three hacks have been sent to jail, a cop or two has resigned on grounds of ill health and Murdoch has contented himself with his current position as largest stakeholder of BSkyB, anything of any substance will change?

Of course not. Because this is the media's expenses-scandal moment. Just as MPs are now back to claiming more than they did before their supposed damascene conversion to paragons of thrift, so we would be deluding ourselves if we think for a second that somehow we will emerge from this cesspool with a responsible press governed by effective privacy laws and respect for the individual.

The media is the glue that holds the nation in thrall to the ruling class and its kleptocracy. That any of this has leaked out at all is simply testimony to how utterly rotten and corrupt the whole system has become. With their diet of scandal, prejudice and pap, the media is vital to establishing and reinforcing the conformity that, while permitting occasional spurts of defiance to let off pressure, ultimately ensures continuing consensus around our current parliamentary system and socio-economic set up. In the end, the Establishment might wipe away the seeping pus when it inevitably oozes through the cracks, but it will not lance the boil it depends on so very much. The politicians who will vote tomorrow are the same people who last week courted Murdoch and will do so again next week, or month. A few, like Clegg, will claim to have warned about Murdoch, yet effectively did nothing to challenge him, still willingly serving in Government alongside his placemen.

While the papers fill up with the shlock horrors of the phone hack scandal that everyone has suspected for years, the Government has quietly proposed a major act of destruction on our public services with contracting out to private companies to become the virtual default in a whole range of areas. Hospitals, schools, cleansing services and more - everything is up for auctioning off under a veneer of increased choice and community control.

It is not that the hacking scandal should be a non-story. But somehow it is more than ironic that the very exposure of the Establishment's corrupt heart has yet again ensured the obscuring of the sort of issue that should be the lead on every front page. Plus ca change...

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