Policing the Press?

6 07 2011

There will be any number of blogs on the allegations of phone hacking by News of the World of the murdered teenager Milly Dowler. I don’t have anything to add to what already exists other than my disgust at the behaviour of News International staff. This behaviour takes a celebrity / political media scandal to a completely new and far lower level. Sick, vile behavior.

It does however prompt some really important questions about what the Press are becoming and it’s no surprise that it was a News International owned paper involved in such foul behaviour. I’ll discuss this point later.

The whole phone hacking thing took right to a private life and fucked it royally up the arse.

A – Z list slebs, politicians, their families and their pets were all having their voicemail listened to by private investigators and journalists in their quest for the next front page, red top revelation. People already suspected it was going on and everyone denied it, even the Metropolitan Police ignored it.

Then the hacking was admitted, the police still pretty much ignored it, the media had a brief moan about it and the public were divided on it. It didn’t actually make much sense why this scandal didn’t produce more outrage. Slowly headlines disappeared into chip pokes.*

Where were the arrests? The apologies? The mass sackings?

Where were the regulators, the Press Complaints Commission?

The PCC are the only recourse for the public should they have a complaint about reports in the print media, and the criteria are pretty strict for making a complaint. They are a self-regulatory body made up of 17 members. Of whom 7 are serving editors. This means essentially the press police themselves.

Not surprisingly there are many issues with complaints not being upheld, and claims of circling the press wagons to protect their own.

The regulation of the press, who rely on the Freedom of Speech premise, is in dire need of reconsideration. For all the honest, hardworking journalists out there reporting actual news, there are many hacks who will reduce themselves to any level to get their scoop on stories that are barely in the public interest. Indeed most stories are sex, sleaze, scandal and titillation and in the quest to get the big seller, anything goes.

I’m all for freedom of the press for issues that are in the public interest but it seems what I believe is newsworthy, y’know things that affect us personally, economics, politics, life, death, survival, war etc. are not necessarily what “Fleet Street” consider newsworthy. Politics and economics don’t shift millions of units, sex does.

When this is the case, so-called journalists and their private investigators will to go great lengths to find a story. And if a story doesn’t exist, why let that stop you? Just create it. Soon enough life will imitate art.

And nobody stops them.

Now the more erudite among us will usually have their bullshit filters turned on and I’d like to think that most of them wont waste their pennies on the trashy red tops anyway, but there seems to be an unrelenting market for their trash. The loyal readers of The Sun, The Daily Mail, The News of the World keep on funding the illegal behaviours of tabloid journalsits and their cohorts, and even go as far as to justify them.

Let’s not pretend these aren’t criminal activities, yet aside from a few practitioners such as Glen Mulcaire and Clive Goodman, there are few convictions.

Perhaps because there would then be more than just the newspapers implicated. Already there are claims of evidence of Police being paid by the media for information. This highlights further corruption on a far larger scale than initially perceived. The lengths people are going to get their story is unthinkable.

Are the public really so information hungry that these behaviours are considered justifiable? Would civilisation cease to exist if we weren’t aware of D-list sleb and random high-profile footballer having a shag?

Do we really want to eavesdrop on very private pleas of friends and family to a then missing girl to come home? Is that in the public interest? Is deleting voicemails of a murdered child in the public interest?

And why is the press allowed to get away with this kind of behaviour? The government have remained pretty silent on the matter. The police even more so.

Tapping phones has been illegal for quite some time. The controversial, Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act (2000) was the act under which Glen Mulcaire and Clive Goodman were convicted using Section 1 covering Unlawful Interception.  In the case of hacking or passing on information without permission, the Data Protection Act (1998) can provide additional legislative support where personal data is collected unlawfully.

It is obvious that the press have ignored both of these legislations in their quest to get the big selling story, and while individual journalists and private investigators can be made the public scapegoats, the problem is far wider and more endemic. To think that those in a position of power do not have an awareness of the behaviour of their staff, is ridiculous, to assume they do not have an involvement is callow.

If an Editor is unaware of the behaviours employed by their staff in the course of undertaking their job, then there is a serious management issue. If an Editor is aware and turns a blind eye, there is a serious motivation issue. If the Editor is aware and promotes the behaviour then they too are implicated in committing the crime and should be dealt with appropriately, now, not 6 months down the line!

If we consider, for example Rebekah Brooks, who was the Editor of News of the World during the time the Dowler hacking allegations are being made, it would be hard to believe that she had no knowledge of the methodologies employed by her staff. You don’t get to that level in one of the country’s most popular tabloids with one of the worlds largest media corporations without knowing the game and how it is played.

There is already evidence from 2003 to suggest she was implicit in remunerating police officers for information, which in itself is an illegal activity. To believe that she wasn’t aware of payments to private investigators and what they were actually being paid to do, is naive. Brooks has claimed over the years that these hacking stories have been discussed, that such behaviours didn’t take place when she was the Editor. We are now seeing this is not the case. If she was unaware of such behaviour then her managerial ability really need to be called into question, especially considering she is now Chief Exec at News International *spits*

The most worrying part of this for me is that News International are such a huge influence in the media but also in politics. It’s no secret that David Cameron and the Murdoch family are “chums”, with private meetings, yacht parties, dining over the christmas holiday period etc. This relationship appears to go beyond professional.

At the last general election, Murdoch’s media backed the Conservatives, which is a huge influential factor on the general public. And lets not forget the employment of Andy Coulson, Downing Street Director of Communications, who was previously Editor at News of the World. He stepped down from his government position late 2010, after further furore over the phone hacking scandal and implications of his personal involvement. The CPS said at the time there was not enough evidence to charge him, with additional claims that witnesses were no longer willing to provide evidence against him.

All the corporate and political back scratching is leading to the imminent sale of BSkyB to Murdoch and News International, ensuring he has 100% ownership. The government has agreed to Murdoch bidding, despite anti-competition worries from a number of parties. This would give him control of a huge portion of the UK’s media and with the government in his pocket, lets not forget the power the media has over the public, the way the country is run.

With Murdoch’s executive reach in mind, how can any investigation or inquiry into the behaviour of News International be independent? When witnesses refuse to provide evidence in court, what is it they fear?With no witnesses and no independent inquiry, how will it work?

Justice will never be done and a newspaper man will end up running the country from behind the scenes. It just makes me wonder, what are his motives? When you already have the power and the money, what’s left?

If a less politically and media powerful person had been committing such crimes, they would be met with the full force of the law. This evening in the news, it was claimed that nothing will change. Murdoch is pissed off that he’s having the finger pointed at him yet no one in a position of authority and power dared to do anything about the behaviour of his businesses.

He is essentially untouchable as he holds the power of publicity in his hands…

When one man with his business has such a tight hold on the running of a country, yet is not directly involved in politics, something is seriously wrong. Corruption lies far deeper than just a few journalists and policemen and that is why this situation could never be suitably resolved.

To highlight what really goes on with the newspapers, will highlight the corruption all the way to the top of the political pyramid. The scandal goes far deeper than the media are suggesting. Whether or not an investigation will ever make that clear, is yet to be discovered. Somehow I doubt the truth will ever be out.




*Chip Pokes are a glaswegian term for the wrapping your chip shop chips come in. Usually containing yesterdays headlines.




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