Wednesday, July 06, 2011

Why the News of the World Scandal Indicts Capitalism

Murdoch's sway over UK politics is legendary
The News Of The World (NotW) telephone hacking scandal threatens to cost the Murdoch media empire millions, as advertisers scurry to distance themselves from a now toxic brand. Furthermore, it has caused great embarrassment for Prime Minister David Cameron, as the extent of Murdoch's penetration of the state becomes clearer. But perhaps more significant than any of this, the furore is an indictment of the capitalist system itself, and how it twists every profession, not least that of the journalist.

The hacking affair has been rumbling for a few years now, with various politicians and celebrities suing the publication over having their phonecalls monitored. Police 'investigations' have so far proved almost toothless, which is hardly surprising since the police are also embroiled in this controversy, apparently taking payments from David Cameron's former PR guru and ex NotW editor Andy Coulson. Despite Murdoch and co. forcing Coulson's resignation from Cameron's office over the affair in January, the public at large remained largely unconcerned.

This indifference came to an abrupt end on Monday, when a Guardian investigation revealed that "The News of the World illegally targeted the missing schoolgirl Milly Dowler and her family in March 2002". Since then, it has come to light that parents of other missing children and relatives of 7/7 bombing victims had also been hacked. This was the final straw. It was one thing to dig for dirt on the rich and powerful, it was quite another to invade the privacy of those who had suffered tragic loss, those whose suffering the paper had loudly trumpeted.

In the case of Milly Dowler, it emerged that the NotW hacker deleted voicemails, leaving space for more. This gave the Dowlers false hope that Milly was still alive, because they assumed she must have been the one doing the deleting.

Only one daily is not splashing on the scandal...
NotW and Murdoch's News International corporation are yet to officially admit the truth of the allegations, but their lack of an outright denial is telling, as more and more players are coming out of the woodwork to put their side of the story. Even the hacker himself, private investigator Glenn Mulcaire, has now apologised to "to anybody who was hurt or upset by what I have done".

Like any corporate newspaper, the News of the World exists to serve two purposes. First, it seeks to influence the political debate in directions favoured by its proprietor - in this case Rupert Murdoch. Though it seeks to strike a populist pose, NotW and its sister The Sun are in fact virulently anti-working class, typically seek to divide workers along ethnic, nationalist, gender and claimant/non-claimant lines, the better to conquer them. Second, it tries to sell papers and therefore advertising space. NotW is known for its regular Sunday morning celebrity 'exclusives', such as match fixing amongst Pakistani cricketers, Ryan Giggs' exploits, and the latest in the Cheryl and Ashley Cole story. NotW journalists must use every trick in the book to get its hands on such stories, and indeed Mulcaire has spoken of the "constant demand for results".

Yet every newspaper is subject to exactly the same pressures, in a dwindling but highly competitive market. Murdoch merely acted to introduce a lowest common denominator, a barrel-scraping standard against which all other papers must measure themselves. Respected socialist journalist John Pilger calls Murdoch's effect a kind of "cultural Chernobyl", but if it hadn't been Murdoch, it would have been someone else. The decay of capitalism called for Murdoch's brand of 'news', and it would be a huge shock if other papers had been foolish enough not to hack into the phones of people in the public eye.
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