News International‘s damage limitation exercise kicked in with a vengeance this afternoon as James Murdoch announced that Sunday’s edition of News of the World would be its last. On the face of it this sort of decisive action may appear to be an act of contrition that shows just just how seriously News International (read Rupert Murdoch) takes the string of phone hacking revelations that have shocked us all. However, we must stop and realise that the motivation for this move is governed not by any sense of moral duty but the overriding priority for Murdoch to maintain his vast wealth and influence.
Before I say much more about Murdoch’s motives lets begin by making it absolutely clear who’s responsible, ergo who should be held to account. The extent of the phone-hacking operations was so wide spread we can be absolutely certain it was not just the work of a couple of “rogue operatives” but a mode of operation that was deeply engrained in the culture of News of the World. Rather than being a damning inditement of the rank and file this suggests: at worst senior management (i.e. Rebecca Brooks, Murdock snr and jr and the other News International apparatchiks) actively encouraged such behaviour and colluded to cover it up; and at best demonstrated gross negligence through their complete failure of oversight and the absence of sufficient internal controls. In either event both must be considered completely unacceptable and grounds for senior management’s immediate dismissal and most probably criminal charges.
So if we are to assume that the closure of The News of the World draws a line under this whole sorry affair what amens does it bring? From what I can discern there will be very little. First and foremost lets remember that the closure means that 168 employees, few of whom worked during the period of Hacking-gate worked at the paper, their redundancy doesn’t seem to provide any sort of solution. It would seem that a phoenix will soon emerge from the flames (given reports that the domain name for sunonsunday.com was purchased two days ago) as a new Sunday paper arrivea on the market filling the same space in the marketplace with the very same culpable leadership in control. So far so little to protect the public from those responsible or bring them to account.
Lets now consider Rupert Murdoch’s motives for the move and what he might gain from the closure of The News of The World… As I’ve already mentioned the objective of the closure is to draw a line under events, if successful this would mean:
- The take-over of BSkyB would proceed, providing even more control of our daily media intake and even greater means to influence the public and control the agenda to Murdoch’s will
- Avoidance of a full public enquiry chaired by a judge where any lies or cover-ups would be punishable with the full force of the law (there can be no doubt none of the board of News International have any appetite to face a custodial sentence)
- Limit the reputational damage to other News International businesses as a result of a long drawn out scandal
All of which mean Murdoch is able to fulfil his overriding objective to maximise return to shareholders (remember this is the primary objective of any publicly listed company). This objective throws up problems in the eyes of many for all corporations, as shareholder interest takes precedence to all of its other stakeholders, be they employees or customers. And to some extent is a justification of Murdoch’s behaviour. Therefore we must consider whether this widely accepted mode of behaviour can be tolerated any longer. Particularly, in the case of the media which unlike other business has a duty to not only deliver its product to the market place to satisfy customers needs but to hold government, business and wider society to account. Clearly if the media is owned by very few players, for whom the priority is to maximise their returns a conflict exists. For who will hold them to account, if it is not in their own interests to do so. For this reason we must fundamentally reconsider who media is owned and regulated, placing its role as the 4th estate at its heart.
Despite these facts we cannot lay this solely at the door of the capricious owners of News International and the working culture they fostered at News of the World and the wider stable of News International publications. The wider public who embrace the journalistic agenda of these publications must think twice about what it seeks from the media, and recall its most important role in society as the 4th estate. In this age of intrusion, the public’s seemingly insatiable appetite for the intimate details of celebrities and other notable figures (whether they be victims of murder, rape or other heinous crimes, soldiers) we are guilty
Lets follow Liverpool’s example following the hideous lies the very same News International Group printed about the Hillsborough disaster and vote with our wallets, boycott all News International publications, drop your Sky satellite subscription, write to your MP demanding a public enquiry presided by a judge and ask for the proposed take-over of BSkyB to be blocked. We cannot stand idly by any longer and let Rupert Murdoch poison the fabric of British society, we can and must say no more. And if you think this all sounds a bit harsh on poor old Rupert, remember he’s is and will remain a very rich man.
For more insight into the ills of the printed media look no further than Noam Chomsky who’s written extensively on the subject, you can check out his website which will provide an eloquent and damning analysis (http://www.chomsky.info/).