Tag Archives: tabloids

Phone hacking: the end of the beginning?

Having spent the weekend taking journalism’s weak pulse, it would be remiss not to at least glance at the chart of  the biggest media story of my lifetime.  Especially since yesterday saw further revelations from the parliamentary select committee and the preliminary inquiry hearing into phone-hacking by UK newspapers.  Again, I offer my apologies to everyone who reached saturation point with the whole affair long ago.

That seems to be a fairly natural reaction, as at more than one point this summer, it seemed the revelations were coming too quickly to grasp.  Yet things started slowly, as they often do, with actor Sienna Miller receiving a payout in the case she had brought against News Group, publishers of The Sun and The News of the World (NOTW), over claims they had hacked into her mobile phone’s voicemail messages.  As part of the settlement they admitted unconditional liability.

And there it might have rested, one more tale of how vile the British newspapers can be to those they consider fair game because they are deemed to have courted fame for one reason or another.  Interest might certainly have waned, were it not for continuing disclosures of the hacking of phones belonging to murdered schoolgirl Milly Dowler, relatives of service personnel killed in Afghanistan and even those who surely, they didn’t need to hack at all.

The NOTW defence that these practices were limited to one rogue reporter, Clive Goodman, jailed for hacking the phones of Buckingham Palace staff, were never particularly convincing.  As occurred to many, what editor would be so un-curious as to the sources of such rival-busting scoops?  That argument was further blown full of holes by a Guardian story detailing payouts of over £1m to settle three cases that threatened to reveal how widespread phone hacking was.  As the Guardian very delicately pointed out:

The evidence also poses difficult questions for:

• Conservative leader David Cameron’s director of communications, Andy Coulson, who was deputy editor and then editor of the News of the World when, the suppressed evidence shows, journalists for whom he was responsible were engaging in hundreds of apparently illegal acts.

• Murdoch executives who, albeit in good faith, misled a parliamentary select committee, the Press Complaints Commission and the public.

• The Metropolitan police, which did not alert all those whose phones were targeted, and the Crown Prosecution Service, which did not pursue all possible charges against News Group personnel.

• The Press Complaints Commission, which claimed to have conducted an investigation, but failed to uncover any evidence of illegal activity.

For confirmed political junkies, this was the effect of pure grade medical stuff being applied directly to the receptors.  Like one of those stoned conversations you hear at the end of a long night, when you feel the truth of every jibbering, over-indulged word from your companions.  Except now it turns out that was all true and ‘they’ really were all in it together

Within quick succession, the NOTW was closed and News International Chief Executive Rebekah Brooks resigned, leaving commentators to ponder what it could possibly all mean.  Was News International unravelling after so long in control, or were these calculated moves to head off further scrutiny, especially the perceived threat of UK investigations spreading to the US?  How far Brooks’ departure could help to avoid this scenario remains to be seen.  Given Murdoch Senior’s skills as a political operator, it is surely premature to write the company’s obituaries.

Especially since, as an excellent article in the New Yorker noted, the tabloid culture dreamed up by Murdoch has taken over British newspapers so completely that old distinctions between tabloid and broadsheet have been pushed aside in the race to the bottom.  While readers may be shocked at how far journalists went, within that culture, it is less surprising:

If your attitude toward the lives of others is that of a house burglar confronted by an open window; if you consider it part of your business to fabricate conversations where none exist; and if your boss treats his employees with a derision that they, following suit, extend to the subjects of their inquiries—if those elements are already in place, then the decision to, say, hack into someone’s cell phone is almost no decision at all. It is merely the next step. All that is required is the technology. What ensues may be against the law, but it goes no more against the grain of common decency than any other tool of your trade.

So while there is certainly more to come from News International and James Murdoch is likely to face more awkward questions, the newspaper readers of Britain should not lose sight of the key questions around what else these ‘rogue elements’ were up to and what the effects on the country’s democratic institutions were.  The fallout of the scandal perhaps offers the best chance in a generation to create a fairer, more equitable society for Britain.   As Freedom of Information campaigner, Heather Brooke writes:

This is why there is collusion between the elites of the police, politicians and the press. It is a cartel of information. The press only get information by playing the game. There is a reason none of the main political reporters investigated MPs’ expenses – because to do so would have meant falling out with those who control access to important civic information. The press – like the public – have little statutory right to information with no strings attached. Inside parliament the lobby system is an exercise in client journalism that serves primarily the interests of the powerful.

Freedom of information laws bust open the cartel. They give everyone an equal right to access information. You don’t have to take anyone out to lunch. You don’t have to pay anyone or suppress a damaging story to maintain a flow of information. You simply ask, with the full power of the law behind you.

She also notes:

Phone hacking, that’s just touching the surface of that whole industry in personal information which is vast, huge, it’s massive

And Tom Watson, a backbench MP who as one of Gordon Brown’s henchmen had his own insider knowledge of the ‘dark arts’ and who now sits on the parliamentary committee investigating phone-hacking agrees:

I think we’re probably only about halfway through the number of revelations. I’m pretty certain there will be quite detailed stuff on other uses of covert surveillance. I suspect that emails will be the next scandal. And devices that track people moving around. That’s just starting to come out.

Unfortunately for those who are starting to get bored with phone hacking this story looks, in the tabloid parlance, to be one ‘with legs’.  A prospect which this politics junkie is relishing.

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No Smoke Without Headlines

This is a guest post for ten minutes hate by writer, Nick Bryan

The Jo Yeates case rumbles on; you may have heard that a neighbour of the victim has now been arrested and charged, and the borderline libel has begun. One thoughtfully phrased S*n headline described him as ‘THE QUIET DUTCHMAN’, which brought two points to my mind:

  1. Clearly the author of said copy is already working on a trashy novel about the Yeates case
  2. They must be pretty annoyed that this new suspect can’t fly

Anyway, this is nothing new, not even within this case. Some ‘creepy”’ teacher was questioned a couple of weeks ago, and the ‘PORTRAIT OF A KILLER’ articles were everywhere before he’d even reached the damn police station. The fact he wasn’t charged is probably the only reason he has any chance of a normal life now.

Of course, news outlets telling us what to think isn’t anything new. Some make more effort to conceal their biases than others, and even that layer of restraint melts away when faced with the arousing prospect of an election. Who could forget The S*n’s Election Day 2010 front page, which resembled a news headline in the same way a toilet resembles the Venus de Milo?

It’s somehow okay in politics, it seems, because we don’t want the poor newspapers to be left out whilst everyone else has an opinion, and no-one’s died or anything. And of course, there’s always cheating footballers, who are basically the bitches of the tabloid press. If that won’t persuade them to keep it in their pants, god knows what will. But what happens when they start applying this lens of simplistic finger-pointing to murders and suchlike? Well, this shit mostly.

There are meant to be contempt of court laws stopping massive character assassinations, as it could prejudice a jury. Imagine they head into the courtroom, only to realise the man sitting in the dock is on the front of their newspaper, under a massive headline saying ‘HE DID IT’. Not sure what’s happened to those laws. Maybe someone should go find them.

Lastly, I feel bad writing about news media beating current affairs into a narrative without linking to some of Charlie Brooker’s excellent work on the subject in NewsWipe. So here he is, in a poignant clip about school shootings. A cheery note to end on, yes?

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How tabloids work

Anton Vowl nails it here.

Almost sounds to me like he has bugged one of their editorial meetings, except that of course, no reputable media source would get involved in that kind of behaviour, would they?

There must be some other explanation.

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Why Labour lost

Following a defeat or set back it is natural to contemplate what went wrong, human nature having developed this tactic to avoid repeating mistakes forever.  One of my favourite and oft-quoted pieces of wisdom is that one, sometimes attributed to Einstein, about the definition of insanity being expecting a different result from the same action.

A political party displaying this most human of traits should therefore be an encouraging sight.  The Tory ‘brand’ wasn’t deemed to be detoxified until they had fought and lost two elections on the issues that had helped to turn everybody off them in the first place – immigration and Europe – so it is refreshing that the Labour party is wasting no time in beginning the process of staring at its navel.  Like a chorus of Wodehousian aunts, there have been no end of  ‘where it went wrong’ articles  seeking to assist Labour in this endeavour, so ten minutes hate has cut through the chatter to bring you two of the best.

The first is from Max Dunbar and targets two key points: the reaction to ‘dog-whistle’ scapegoating of welfare claimants and immigrants and the expansion of the intrusive security state, neither of which pleased the right-wing nor garnered much support on the left.  We have indeed reached a pretty pass where the coalition government can claim to be on the left of the previous government on its prison sentencing policy.  (H/T to Chicken Yoghurt for the link.)

The second article is a longer piece by Ross McKibbin, which begins with an intriguing break down of the electoral results.  It is interesting to learn that:

Despite very favourable circumstances the Conservative vote is proportionately much lower than it was in 1992

as well as hear of:

the continued failure of the Conservatives to make any gains among voters in the AB classes – the upper and solid middle classes, 57 per cent of whom voted Labour or Lib Dem, in almost equal proportions. In 1987, for the first time, the majority of those with university degrees didn’t vote Conservative, and they have not been won back

In spite of all the propaganda, it seems we are not heading straight back to the 80s and Thatcherism red in tooth and claw.  Which is almost a shame for the Labour Party, as it would make life, electorally at least, much easier for them.  They know how to fight those battles.  Instead, they are going to have to engage in some careful thought to bring about a reversal in their electoral fortunes.  One reason for so many differing opinions on the matter being aired is that there are a litany of different areas to choose from – was it the NHS, immigration, education – and each commentator has their own pet reason for the loss.  Mr McKibben cuts through all of these when he urges the Labour Party back to basic principles:

There are moral lines no social democratic party should cross and Labour has repeatedly crossed them. The result has been policies that are socially and morally objectionable as well as politically futile

A recognition of such would be a good place to begin.  Then they could approach the problems so concerning the leadership candidates from the correct angle.  This will require a deeper understanding of the issues than can be gathered from the tabloid front pages:

Those who worry about immigration usually claim that immigrants take British jobs and/or British houses. Neither is actually true; what is true is that there is an acute shortage of social housing, and that Labour connived at the shortage…  the housing shortage was, therefore, a source of real social deprivation

Let’s see if Labour can meet that challenge and avoid the temptation of a return to the old habits of setting policy by whatever plays best with the Sun, Mail and Express editors.  To use an overwrought footballing metaphor, there is everything to play for…

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Questions

Questions that MUST be answered regarding the return to jail of Jon Venables, co-murderer of 2-year-old James Bulger:

1. Does the public’s the tabloid editor’s right to know supercede the importance of not prejudice a pending hearing?

2. Does this right to know also include an element of a right to turn up outside the prison gates brandishing flaming torches?

3. Are we prepared to admit the possibility exists for the rehabilitation of dangerous prisoners anymore?

Perhaps I am slow on the uptake, but these are the questions that I want answered before finding out what Jon Venables has been recalled for.

UPDATE: To note this link to the first Chapter of Blake Morrison’s ‘As If’, his account of the original trial.

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