Thursday, 7 July 2011

Not such surprising News of the World we live in.

A word on the News International scandal that seems to be getting bigger, deeper and worse by the day. I won't bother rehashing the details here, I'm sure you're familiar with them, but there's a handy run-down of some of the stuff that's been emerging lately here.

This is, frankly, why I haven't bought or read a 'red-top' newspaper since I was a teenager. They're rags. They have a long and ignominious history of using their reach, influence and contacts for all the wrong reasons, not to mention the access to millions of people which they use to peddle whatever agenda they may have, rather than actually reporting news. It's bad enough some of the stuff they write - just off the top of my head, I recall the Sun's disgraceful incrimination of the Liverpool support after the Hillsbrough disaster, or that same paper dismissing Brighton as a town of 'junkies, homeless people and queers' after it emerged Brightonians were against Thatcher's Tories holding their annual conference in the then town.

More recently there was the utterly scandalous treatment of Christopher Jefferies, a suspect (later completely cleared by police) in the murder of Jo Yeates in Bristol, whom various tabloids all but called a murderer before any trial had even commenced, let alone a verdict reached, seemingly on the 'evidence' that he looked a bit eccentric. I could go on.

So while it seems new lows have been reached lately, I'm not sure that's the case. Raking through the shattered pieces of the lives of bereaved relatives of murdered schoolchildren by hacking into their phones may seem like the absolute nadir of this sort of thing, but I suspect it's just a case of them having actually been caught out this time. And now, it seems, they're beginning to feel the hot breath of public outrage. Finally these practices are being dragged out of the dark underworld in which they go on, into the harsh glare of media scrutiny. Oddly fitting that it should take the media to expose the media's worst excesses, but however these people are made to reap what they've sown, it'll do for me.

But there is a fundamental element to this which, so far, seems to have gone largely unremarked-upon. I'm not really sure the public, or at least that part of it which buys these bloody things and feeds into the process, are deserving of the right to their outrage. As well as the sort of stuff that's allegedly coming to light now, (some) newspapers do have a long history of investigative journalism, exposing malpractice, financial wrong-doing, corruption, paedophile networks, you name it. The contacts, resources, ingenuity and sedulous determination of an investigative journalist can bring any number of such nefarious goings-on to light, and can be a great force for good, but what do we get instead? We find 'celebrities' having their phones tapped to satisfy the constant 'need' for malicious gossip. Journalists following actors around and photographers camping outside their houses in the hope of being the first with the latest nugget of tittle-tattle, and the hacking into voice-mail messages of a young murder victim, to who knows what detriment of the police investigation into her death?

Such are the ends to which these foul means are directed. And the public lap it up. The Sun is still easily the biggest-selling daily newspaper in Britain, and the NOTW, which is at the centre of these latest allegations but doubtless by no means the only one guilty of them, is easily the biggest-selling Sunday. They do this because they're encouraged to do so by people buying them.

Well, finally, hopefully, the way in which this type of 'news' is gathered is being exposed and the response to it is salutary. Advertisers and charities pulling out of association with the News of the World before the allegations are even proven has a satisfying sense of poetic justice about it. I don't for a moment expect this to mark the beginning of the end of the celeb gossip type of news reporting, but it may yet mark a watershed for which the less hysterical elements of the British mass media, and the consumers of it, will be extremely grateful.

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