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The decision on the BSkyB deal has been delayed, which is more like it, but obviously a delay isn't a stop, and I really must ask the general public not to let their revulsion lapse like some magazine subscription bought for them as a well-meaning gift. Right now Murdoch, and indeed the government, would like another bite at this cherry as soon as possible, and it's up to the rest of us to keep up the background noise and ensure that it still tastes just as disgusting.

For now, though, let's enjoy the intriguing spectacle of the Prime Minister working hard to dismiss any notion that he might be somehow tainted by his former head of communications being arrested for the very offence for which he was known when the Prime Minister appointed him, and over which he had had to resign from his previous job.
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God, the speed of events this week is startling. Write something about the News of the World and before you even finish your sentence it's ceased to exist.

The alacrity with which News International has sacrificed the title indicates that, as a print operation, it was making Murdoch far less money than he would like. He's probably glad to be shot of the burden, even if he's had to shrug it off in ignominious circumstances. He knows that after tomorrow's "deal" he will make far money than a newspaper could ever generate for him.

Ultimately, the News of the World is not a scalp; it's just a rag. It does not mean that those responsible are paying any kind of price for how they've acted. Do not mistake this for Rupert being beaten. It is no victory to overrun a deliberately abandoned castle.


ETA: Not quite glad to be "shot of the burden", then; I hadn't realised the extent to which the NotW was propping up the Times. The principle holds true, though, that Rupert fully expected to make far more money by jettisoning the thing, and he is probably right.
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The icing on the final nail in the tin lid of this week’s unbelievable slew of terrible news is that what would have been one of the funniest things ever to happen in British politics now seems to be dead in the water. Presumably that means a private investigator is listening in to voicemail messages from its grieving relatives as we speak.

I am stunned by the detail—though gratified by its effect on a public who turn out to be less cynical than maybe they themselves had assumed—of what we’re learning about how journalists in Rupert Murdoch’s news organisation chose to implement his ruthless commercial vision. Sure, journalists and investigators from other companies may have been at it too but ultimately they were all Rupert’s avatars, crawling over the dead and dying and bereaved, sniffing out the most meagre morsels to feed on. You may remember news stories a few years ago saying that Murdoch had been diagnosed with prostate cancer, and then those stories immediately went away. That wasn’t news management—the cancer just gave up. After all, no-one burgles a Mafia boss.



In the wake of this week’s utterly skullfucking revelations, then, the decision of the Prime Minister and his Hulture Secretary to wave through Murdoch’s bid to become the greatest unopposed media oligarch in the country looks, shall we say, poorly judged. At a time when his trusted company executives stand accused of activity whose criminality is eclipsed by its sheer immorality, less assured politicians might feel it was a poor moment to give the thumbs-up to a deal that would give that same company complete control of an entire TV network and make Rupert more money than I can even spell.

Still, never let it be said that David Cameron lets himself fall prey to bias. The fact that the Camerons themselves are close personal friends of News Corp’s Rebekah Brooks––properly, sociably close, not Christmas cards but Christmas dinner—has not been allowed to sway his judgment that the Murdoch deal is right for the country. In fact, politicians generally since the Thatcher era have allowed themselves to be bought and paid for by the Murdochracy. The Attorney-General actually told Chris Bryant MP in the Commons on Wednesday that he was courageous for calling for that day’s emergency debate—the clear implication being that MPs know the likely fallout from openly attacking Murdoch. Given the power that Rupert wields over Parliament, even if Cameron weren’t such a good personal friend to the Murdoch camp he would still have ended up doing what it wanted (though his unerring Flashman instincts seem anyway to lead him automatically to the side of the bully).
Fun fact: it’s precisely this sort of undue influence over a nation’s parliament that Murdoch insists his news organisation rails against! Apparently it’s evil when it’s practised by Brussels but entirely healthy and desirable when it comes from a single malignant megalomaniac!
So the BSkyB deal will go through tomorrow, Rupert will extend his rule, Cameron’s friends will do very nicely out of it and the country will once again be left gazing at its parliament and wondering exactly what it’s for. Still, most people will have forgotten their outrage in a fortnight (remember the pledge in 1997 to boycott all papers that ran paparazzi photos? How’s that holding up?) leaving only Twitter, the Guardian and comedy fans to lick their wounds. By the time that this is ancient history and Rupert's preserved and embalmed corpse is overseeing the final buyout of the BBC, though, one story from this week would still have been amusing and worth preserving, not least because it so eerily resembled the plot of an Ealing comedy:
Speaker John Bercow to trade places with Afghan counterpart

The Speaker, John Bercow, is to be dispatched to Kabul in a unique parliamentary exchange scheme to help impart his knowledge of managing the British House of Commons to his Afghan counterpart. Bercow and Abdul Rauf Ibrahimi, speaker of the Afghan parliament, have been lined up for the parliamentary support programme exchange scheme agreed between the two countries.

Asked if Bercow had been approached to participate in the exchange, a Downing Street spokesman said: "I am sure he is fully supportive of our efforts." [Guardian]
Transparent revenge on the part of Flashman, who was visibly seething last week after being cut down mid-flow during Prime Minister's Questions by a Speaker who he famously views as an unbearable oik. Being sent off to the front line out of pique is what happens in Terry-Thomas films, not in real life, but here it was suddenly being played out in parliament.

Disappointingly, however, and thwarting my intentions to leaven slightly the combined mass of the News International revelations and the imminent BSkyB stitch-up, this has turned out not to be true. To Cameron’s growing reputation for being a rather ineffectual and bewildered PM—a luxury afforded those rich enough to escape the worst effects of their own premiership—we can add the charge that he views the job with such disdain that he’s prepared to make hoax official announcements purely out of spite.

Still, the rest of us should take comfort that a man so comfortable in the role is in charge. He was clearly born to it, and his choice of friends can only show that they too are the right sort of people. As the BSkyB deal goes through tomorrow, we can all celebrate and take heart that such good people are looking out for our interests. I, for one, welcome our new privileged, predatory overlords.
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As the Guardian works hard to keep the News of the World phone-hacking ball in the air, some persistent vuvuzelas can be heard from the crowd: “These allegations are old. They didn’t lead anywhere when they were made the first time. The allegations don’t matter anyway, because all the tabloids have their own dark arts. And without those, we would never uncover public scandals.”

The allegations aren’t that old, for a start. Watching people try to dismiss the current ruckus as old news vividly reminds me of people declaiming that they are “tired of all the banker bashing” and it has to stop, when only a moment’s reflection allows you to realise that, either figuratively or literally, not a single banker has actually been bashed. Rhetoric, column inches and conversations in pubs are not, it turns out, legally binding, and no government has actually moved against the reckless banks operating on its turf. You might think that merely having people bitch about the havoc that you’ve wrought was a pretty light sentence, but no, apparently it’s time to stop even that.

Scratch an anti-banker-basher and underneath you’ll usually find a vested interest—a good friend, relative or business associate of just such a financial wizard. The same applies to the phone-hacking story. The current government is inextricably bound to the scandal due to Cameron’s decision to make Andy Coulson his Alastair Campbell, so, however unfairly, whichever ministers it fields to try to airily dismiss the allegations already look tainted before they even open their mouths.

And they should probably beware of too heavily pursuing the line that the allegations were never proved at the time. That’s one of the aspects of the story that is raising so many awkward questions now—why the Met’s approach to the investigation appears to have been so lacklustre—so emphasising it as a reason to dismiss the whole thing appears, at best, daft and, at worst, complicit.

One evening in Norway my sister rustled us up a quick meal. She boiled some chicken, but I found that the middle was still raw and was swift to mention this. “It’s all right,” she said, “you’re not in Britain now.” I gather I looked puzzled. “We don’t have salmonella here,” she explained patiently. She was right, too: in Norway, raw chicken and, if you must, raw egg have no ill effects whatsoever (apart from those that a raw egg might induce anyway).

My first reaction was, “Why on earth haven’t your chickens got salmonella?” My second reaction was, “Wait, why was that my first reaction? Shouldn’t it be Why have all of ours?” It’s possible to become so acclimatised to a situation that you don’t question it until shown that there’s an alternative and that you might just have gone astray. The tabloids’ “dark arts”, including phone-hacking and other private-eye methods, are applied indiscriminately to any and all news fodder, and there is no reason for this to be tolerated. The only people who should be expected not to recoil from these practices are those in the press who directly benefit from them and playground cynics who pre-emptively disdain everything about the society around them before it can disdain them, the latter group essentially acting as stooges for the former.

There might be more weight to the argument that important investigative journalism needs precisely such dark arts as these in order to expose corruption if there were any sign of this happening. The last major exposé of shenanigans at the top was the Telegraph’s publication of all the MPs’ expenses, and that only happened because a man rang them up and told them he had a list of all the MPs’ expenses. No-one has been monitoring phone messages for a noble cause; no budding Woodward or Bernstein would be hindered if that were suddenly made impossible. Investigative journalism has been almost completely subsumed into the industry of celebrity non-news. Which is more likely: that right now a newspaper is beavering behind the scenes, digging around among arcane documents and sources, trying to untangle networks of sly patronage and subtle illegality at the heart of the worlds of business and government, or that a team of reporters is burning up resources on a relentless, manic quest to discover the current consistency of Kerry Katona’s stomach lining?

There may not be an awful lot that we can do to persuade editors and journalists not to work like this—after all, they’ve got columns to fill, as if in itself that was ever an excuse for anything—but that doesn’t mean that we ever have to be tolerant of it. Our weary acceptance of these antics will only help to do the press’s dirty work for them.
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I’ll be honest, I’m kicking myself. When I listed the fabrications about Jean-Charles de Menezes that had emanated from the Met, I had not noticed an apparent pattern—the regular first appearance of these helpful lies in the Sun and the News of the World. The Five Chinese Crackers blog runs through some useful examples here, along with similar tactics regarding the brothers arrested and, in one case, shot and wounded in Forest Gate:
Guess which paper reported that the police didn't shoot Kahar in the raid, but his own brother did—an allegation that turned out to be totally false, by the way.

Later, after the police bungling was revealed for what it was, allegations that Abdul Kahar had been found with child porn on his mobile phone was leaked to the press. Guess which paper broke the story.

Another allegation that appeared in the press that had the handy effect of making the brothers look a bit dodgy was the revelation that they were found with large amounts of cash—not so odd when you realise that devout Muslims often avoid banks as interest is seen as forbidden. Which paper broke this news, I wonder?

A week after the raid, one paper alleged, falsely, that one brother had a criminal record, while another alleged, falsely, that one committed an offence as a juvenile. Guess which company owns these papers.
Hint: it’s News International.

Policing and investigative journalism obviously share some common territory and it’s no surprise that that should lead to some co-operation, but we ought to be concerned about the exchange rate for favours. The New York Times piece that has kicked off this renewed interest in the phone-hacking story cites a Scotland Yard press officer urging caution on investigating officers due to the Met’s “long-term relationship with News International”. If NI has indeed been mouthpiecing for the police to this extent, is it possible that in return the Met has been, as Index on Censorship has memorably put it, “tiptoeing around News International as if in the presence of a sleeping baby”?
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This is the media watchdog




that let off the channel




that’s owned by the corporation




that’s in bed with the party




that threatened the media watchdog.




In a shock move[1], Ofcom has exonerated Sky’s Adam Boulton and Kay Burley of any partisan bias during the recent election. Referring specifically to Boulton’s meltdown at Alastair Campbell, Ofcom says:
We considered that although the tone and content of this exchange was unusual, it would not have been beyond the likely expectations of the audience for this channel.
This will be music to NewsCorp’s collective ears. Murdoch has long been champing at the bit for the UK to relax its rules and allow news channels to be as partisan and, therefore, uninformative as they are in the States (“divide and rule” still being the Murdochs’ favoured tactic). A ruling that Sky viewers will expect its presenters to act like this as a matter of course towards participants they disagree with, and whose politics they disapprove of, edges us ever closer towards that possibility.

With Ofcom cowed by what a Tory/Lib Dem administration might do to it, the already pretty toothless Press Complaints Commission now headed up by a Tory baroness and the BBC firmly in the firing line, it’s looking a bit grim for public broadcasting at the moment. “I’m probably the most pro-BBC Conservative leader there’s ever been,” Cameron told the Radio Times, presumably aware that this was akin to claiming to be the most pro-hen fox ever to have gained entry to the henhouse.

It’s apposite that today the Economist has run this article on what about the Beeb is worth preserving:
They take accuracy and fairness seriously. They have some rogue presenters who over-egg some of their stuff, but their sins are marginal compared to the outright lies I have watched commercial reporters peddle. I remember watching a TV reporter intoning to a camera that he was on the front lines in Afghanistan when he was actually in the gardens of the house where the press pack was staying, about 10 miles from the front lines, and he was not from the BBC. I have worked alongside reporters who would invent interviews that had never happened, or plagiarise quotes from articles written months earlier: they were not from the BBC.
With the BBC’s online news operation already reduced to basically one person, an iPhone and a pile of press releases, there’s a danger that this passing tribute to BBC journalism could turn out before too long to have been something of a eulogy.


[1] It is not a shock move.
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Compare and contrast: “Brits oppose £80m voting referendum” and “69% support holding a referendum”. The Sun kindly allows both interpretations on the same page. Presumably this is to allow the reader to make up their own mind rather than being a Foxnewsian exercise in blatantly lying in the face of the evidence that you yourself are presenting. Presumably.




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Questions and debates about the future of the BBC abound in the House at the moment. The Tories are taking every opportunity to express their displeasure at its very existence. None of them tends to cite News Corporation chief James Murdoch’s hilarious assertion that the BBC is an active threat to independent journalism and, he hints darkly, a free society; instead, their opponents tend to bring that up to make fun of them. (His depiction of the Beeb as a ruthless international organisation steamrolling any smattering of dissent or rivalry should be familiar to, for example, shareholders of News Corporation.) The Tories are untroubled, though; they know that once they’re at the controls next year, they can start to move in on a body that has always troubled them ideologically and begin to disadvantage it in favour of their natural allies, such as James’s dad.

On a point of order, any Conservative politician who gets to their feet to fire yet another broadside at the BBC should be required to declare their interest as belonging to a party that’s making so much noise in bed with NewsCorp that the neighbours are complaining.

Mind, I do enjoy the dark comedy of watching NewsCorp’s ostensible allegiances morph from territory to territory. I remember, the first time I went to Scotland in my teens, being startled to find that on the Sun’s masthead, where in England it bore the previous day’s “audited daily sale”, there was instead a thistle and the slogan “FIGHTING FOR INDEPENDENCE’. You remember that? You remember the Sun’s vigorous campaign in the 1990s for Scottish independence? The meetings they sponsored? The endless headlines they ran? The marches? The demonstrations? You remember that campaign? How they all but fought in the streets to restore Scotland’s noble independent heritage? You remember how the Sun was praised by Aung San Suu Kyi and Nelson Mandela? How it won prizes for its journalism on the campaign? That campaign that you remember? You know the one? Neither do I.


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