8 July 2011

The News of the World: some thoughts on the cause of its fall & the consequences

I am writing this this offline on the evening of the 7th of July. I know the news has been moving very fast this week, so I apologise if this is already out of date by the time I get round to publishing it online.

Much has been said and written in the last few days about the News of the World hacking scandal. By the time I left my office this evening, it had been announced that this Sunday’s paper would be the last and that the proceeds of the final sales would go to some unnamed “good causes.” For the avoidance of libel, I acknowledge that the allegations made against the News of the World are as yet unproven, and any references to these actions ought to be read in that light.

So why did the paper close. It seems to me that the watershed moment in the hacking affair was the revelation that the phone of Milly Dowler had been hacked. Before this, the dominant theme of the story had been the phones of politicians and celebrities; the usual tabloid fodder. Though the alleged actions were illegal, there was nothing that sparked a widescale moral outrage at them; we are used to those in positions of power using underhanded and dubious means to achieve their goals. But the hacking of the phone of a murder victim seemed to flick a switch that had hitherto been unnamed. The escalation of the revelations from there only compounded the problem.

At this point, there began a pressure campaign on those who advertised in the NOTW to withdraw their funding. I cannot say for certain how much this pressure was applied by those who do not read [sic] the NOTW, though the impression I got from my limited viewpoint was that the non-readers were in the majority. Had it merely been a boycott from buying the paper, I am not convinced the paper would have folded with such rapidity, since any boycott would have been from those who never bought it in the first place, which is pointless. As the majority of a paper’s profits are made from its advertisers, removing this source of funding was always going to hurt the paper. When it became clear that the paper would not be a viable source of profit, it was decided to terminate the paper’s operation. It would be nice to think it was an act of conscience, but I don’t think this is the case. The business of the paper is the business of Rupert Murdoch: making money. The evidence seen so far seems to point to the idea that all actions taken were motivated by the love of money; even if sometimes this exhibited itself indirectly.

A further course of action which was possible, and which I advocated, was to pressurise the vendors of the paper into not selling it. Unless the vendors had a contract with the paper (or its parent company) then I cannot see that it would be impossible for a vendor to choose not to sell it.

What I find interesting to reflect on is that in spite of this being hailed as a victory for public opinion, it was corporations that ultimately swayed the matter to the extent that the paper folded. I don’t think that it would have done so if the advertisers hadn’t pulled out. So is it the case that the advertisers were the real champions of ethics? Well, I did find a list of those advertisers and it makes for interesting reading. It is not exactly made up of companies who are well-known for being champions of corporate social responsibility and one could certainly write several books containing the accounts of the misdemeanours by the likes of Tesco and Asda, amongst others.

So I would propose that the closing of the paper, while initiated by a mob mentality motivated by moral outrage, was ultimately decided by those corporations who feared for their own profits being damaged by the public boycotting of their own products and services in protest, had they not withdrawn their advertising funds.

Call me a cynic, but the whole thing seems to be about money and greed, rather than a fundamental sense of right or wrong.

At the time of writing, there was an unsubstantiated rumour going round that there was to be a planned merger of The Sun and the NOTW anyway, and that today’s announcement was merely an accelerant to that process. Part of this rumour included the proposition that the websites thesunonsunday.com and thesunonsunday.co.uk had been registered as domain names on the 5th of July this year. If someone who is more knowledgeable on how to check such propositions than I could confirm or deny this, that would be much appreciated.

So now that the announcement of cessation of publication has been made, what will be the likely outcome? Well, in the short-term it looks like we will have one fewer right-wing newspaper on the shelf on a Sunday. It’s not a huge step of progress, but it is a mild improvement. Ideally, I’d rather see more left-leaning papers as the closest we have to these are The Independent and The Guardian, and these are not exactly bastions of liberal freethought at all times.

Given the close links between the NOTW and The Sun, I think it likely that there will be a limited number of transfers going on, though I think it reasonable to assume there will be some job losses. While the problems at the paper may have been fairly widespread, I strongly doubt that everyone who worked at the paper was party to the hacking. So inevitably there will be some innocent people who are going to lose their livelihoods as a result; and what prospects do they have? Though the NOTW was never the most respectable of papers, I would not like to cast aspersions on everyone who worked there. If I try and put myself in the shoes of a budding young journalist, and the NOTW was the only national paper to offer me a job I would be tempted to take it. But given the seriousness of the allegations, will the fact that time spent at the NOTW will be on someone’s CV consign them to history as far their journalistic career goes. I have spoken to a number of people who formerly worked at Arthur Andersen, and who were not able to get a job in accountancy after Enron, in spite of the fact that they may have been very good at their jobs and acted at all times with the utmost integrity.

What of the prime minister and his involvement? I would like to think he’d resign as a sense of duty and seeking to do what is best for the country; though I have never been given any reason to suppose that he has anything but his own interests and those of his friends and business associates at heart. It is now 10pm and I just saw on a preview of Newsnight that Andy Coulson is expected to be arrested tomorrow (the 8th). This may damage the prime minister a lot, though unfortunately the British public are a fickle lot with short memories. I suspect the Lib Dems lack the spine to pull out of the coalition and will seek to hang on to the bitter end of the 5 year term. By this time, the NOTW will be a distant memory, as will the 2012 Olympics and many other national embarrassments, though it is yet to be seen whether or not Ed Milliband will, by then, have actually done anything productive.

9 comments:

  1. This is very insightful and thanks for sharing.

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  2. The Coulson issue is a dagger pointing straight to Cameron's jugular. Ed milliard will no doubt need to be clever and strong but if he can connect well, it will find its mark and then all hell breaks loose.

    i think this is a very important moment in British politics when we are having to face up to the very thing you highlight-that there is very little power in the hands of the public-the political system having been suborned and unbalanced by amoral corporate interests. Little wonder that the focus in politics is not fairness or justice but PR. It is surely a joke, but a very wry one, that we have a 'PR' man in the position of PM and that Blair was noted for his people and political skills rather than his intellect or moral standing or attachment t principle. He too was in effect, a PR man

    That is the real issue here. Can the 'public' muster its resources to force a re-alignment of power along lines which are more conducive to principle, and accountability and democracy.

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  3. i have some kind of automatic spell checker switched on -hence curiosities such as 'Milliard' for Milliband please excuse. (Damned if i can find how to switch it off)

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  4. Anonymous08 July, 2011

    How to go after the evil emperor and his close cohorts - shall they be terminated?

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  5. Anonymous08 July, 2011

    To be broadcast virally - "Lone-wolf assasin required to remove evil emperor, son and complicit advisors from Planet Earth. No payment offered in cash - only heartfelt thanx from the numerous species that will benefit."

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  6. Anonymous08 July, 2011

    Allow me to confirm the 'rumour' referred to in para 9, line 5 :

    Domain name:
    thesunonsunday.co.uk

    Registrant:
    News International Newspapers Limited

    Address of registrant:
    NI Group Limited
    3 Thomas More Square
    London
    E98 1ES
    United Kingdom

    Type of registrant:
    UK Limited Company, (Company number: 1885543)

    Registrar:
    News International Newspapers Limited
    URL: http://www.newsint.co.uk

    Dates:
    Registered on: 05 July 2011 (renewal date: 05 July 2013)
    Last updated: 08 July 2011

    I suspect that today's amendment will have been the 'clarification' of registrant particulars; as, hitherto, news reports described the ID of registrant as "uncertain".

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  7. An insightful read. Thank you.

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  8. Deceit and dishonor may triumph a while, but chickens always come home to roost. Master Murdock has fatally immolated himself and ta'en bloody Cameron with him. I mean the man, not the country (Cameron is close enough to Cameroon).

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  9. Anonymous09 July, 2011

    "What of the prime minister and his involvement? I would like to think he’d resign..."

    Seriously? What a naive suggestion. I think your bias is showing.

    ReplyDelete