The Rotten Edifice Exposed
Media attention to the phone hacking scandal may not necessarily mirror public mood but its obsession is entirely justified
There’s almost too many aspects of the News of the World phone hacking scandal and its vast array of implications for anyone commentator to fully take in and process right now. The result of the Guardian’s expose and the resulting tsunami of public outrage and political back peddling have sent shock waves across all aspects of the British establishment, from Westminster to Wapping to Scotland Yard.
It is important to note however that whilst this new Zeitgeist is ostensibly fed by a sense of public outrage and condemnation, this outrage and condemnation has a transience to it that the media and politicians don’t entirely share. And understandably so. For many in the media and Westminster this has been a long time coming. Indeed some of the actual public outrage itself may have even been overstated in the first place, as the 4.6 million people who bought the NoW on it’s last day surely testified to (one does not get nostalgic for a publication that one is intensely repulsed by, regardless of its history).
There is then perhaps, more of a disconnect between the chattering classes and the working man and woman on the street, than the constant barrage of news about Murdoch’s News International would lead us to believe. Many people I have spoken to have expressed their frustration at this constant coverage (now in its third week). One astute individual pointed out to me that whilst this may be damaging Cameron, it is providing an effective smokescreen behind which the Coalition’s swinging cuts are continuing unabated (yesterday it was announced that the Armed Forces numbers were being cut to levels not seen in this country since the Boer War). This brings to mind that now infamous phrase that we heard first surfaced in an e mail from a political aide in the aftermath of 9/11 that now is “a good time to bury bad news”. How ironic that this mantra could be resurrected now.
Whether this ever evolving scandal is being used a smokescreen or not though, its importance still cannot be understated and in this sense I think the media attention is entirely justified. For decades now News International has been telling people what to think and politicians what to do. It is this cancerous three way relationship between media propaganda, government policy and public opinion, that has until now dominated the British landscape, which is now being exposed in its full extent for the first time. So long has this insidious merry go-round existed that it has simply become the accepted paradigm, embedding itself into the social subconscious. Now it seems that we could be on the cusp of a genuine watershed; something almost akin to a religious awakening.
Of course the media have always influenced politicians and it is true that not all the right wing press are owned by News International (public enemy number 1 to anyone on the progressive left surely has to be the Daily Mail after all). But it is the level to which the Murdoch press has subverted, corrupted and distorted politics and policing in this country that has allowed it to lead the way and set the standard of collusion, corruption and illegality for others to follow. This is what sets all this apart from mere ‘scandal.’
The exposure of this rotten edifice at the heart of British power has implications and consequences that go way beyond New International and News Corp. The shockwaves now rippling through the ivory towers of Fleet Street and New Scotland Yard have already taken serious casualties. So far no political heads have rolled but with the UK’s two senior policemen resigning within 24 hours of each other and News Corp Lieutenants either jumping ship or being arrested, one can get distracted very easily by the day to day scandalous nature of this story and its villains and heroes as it develops on a literally hour by hour basis. But there could be something far more long term and fundamental to come out of this than a fleeting sense of adulation within the chattering classes at the spectacle of the Guardian’s David bringing Murdoch’s Goliath to it’s knees or a sense of relief amongst the working classes that the red tops are finally talking about another scandal, or the politicians twinkle-toed manoeuvrings away from the Murdoch Empire and its once necessitating patronage. The various investigations and inquiries will take months and in some cases years, and I’ve no doubt this story will soon be replaced in the headlines by the growing contagion in the Eurozone and America’s debt crisis before long, but we can go to bed at night realising that this whole debacle and the media circus that has followed its every twist and turn has forced the current government into finally shining a spotlight on this and in time it will be obliged to make systemic changes.
Surely we have turned a corner, as the unprecedented cross bench derision of Murdoch and his hold over the British Media will indeed testify. And for that reason alone, there is every reason to be optimistic. Because beyond the short term political point scoring that Ed Milliband is now enjoying and the awkward squirming that David Cameron is now engaged in, beyond the machinations of Westminster politics in general, is the prospect of a healthier relationship between the media, the public, the government and the police and the establishment of regulatory bodies with enough teeth to keep this edifice from ever becoming so rotten again.