Allan Takes Aim Blog

Is Murdoch being hacked to death unfairly?

Posted on: 26 July 2011

Online  Opinion, 26 July, 2011 

 The scandal tsunami that struck Rupert Murdoch’s news empire, wiped the tabloid News of the World (NOTW), from the face of the earth. At the same time it hastened people’s disenchantment with the press and gave death to the saying ‘It must be true. It’s in the paper.’

The NOTW will be missed. A unique newspaper, its mix of gossip and sex was risqué but its style appealed both the emotionally inadequate and sexual voyeurs. Better they read about it in the paper than physically act out their fantasies. And that there seemed to be a lot of them was clear because the NOTW had the biggest circulation in Britain.                        .

Every Sunday, its pages were filled with salacious, titillating stories about celebrities, the rich and famous, the rich and infamous and photos of women posing provocatively. But the emotionally inadequate were not the only people who rushed to buy it, people who didn’t wish to be thought readers would buy another paper and use it to cover up the NOTW title.

The NOTW was the equivalent of nudge nudge, wink wink. What it published was often close to reality. It also kept its readers’ tongues hanging out and eyes popping with stories about sexual perversion, celebrities, deviant churchmen and pillars of society who although they constantly exhorted people to avoid the sins of the flesh, clearly seemed to be trying to experience as many of them as they could. In a sense NOTW readers were the ‘Underbelly’ of British life.

Unfortunately for the NOTW its underestimation of the great British public’s tolerance caused the tsunami that wiped it out when in its irreverence went beyond the pale by the hacking the mobile phone of young missing girl Milly Dowler and removing messages left by her parents as they tried to contact her. Sadly, as it turned out, Milly had been murdered.

While its readers tolerated the hacking of celebrities, a young innocent girl was a different matter. And although the NOTW had previously been accused of hacking and had paid substantial compensation, the investigation into the hacking of Milly’s phone brought nearly 4,000 hacking offences to light as well as allegations that, in return for payment, people at the highest level in politics and the police had provided the NOTW with information that in some cases destroyed people’s lives.

It could be argued also that the NOTW by its constant alerting of people to society’s Underbelly did British society a service by sending a message to the community of the need for constant vigilance. Indeed those who think removal of the NOTW means publication of sleaze or pornography will stop are misguided as it might spawn more underground publication of sleaze and pornography.

But the effect of the tsunami that caused the demise of the NOTW, spread to Australia and the US. In this case, however, the hacking in both countries was more political than moral and, in pre mobile phone vernacular the hacking was being done to inflict damage, in this case the targets are News Ltd and Rupert Murdoch, with the leading hackers, media rivals, politicians and commentators who, over the years, had displayed their dislike of Murdoch. Adding grist to their mill was that the scandal tsunami caused Rupert Murdoch to pull out of his bid for BSkyB.

In the US the Democrats and in Australia the Labor Government used the NOTW scandal to kick start campaigns in an attempt to smear Murdoch and his media companies. The Democrats called into question the ethics of Murdoch companies: did they hack into the mobile phones of families involved in the 9/11 terrorist attack or hack into e-mails of Democrat politicians or business rivals to secure information that would discredit them if disclosed?            

The same thing has happened in Australia. Indeed even as Prime Minister Gillard claims the high moral ground for Labor, she is talking about a review of the rules of privacy of in the context of media, using News Ltd as a reference point.

Concomitantly, Senator Bob Brown, leader of The Greens – the unwanted alternative Labor Party which the official Labor Party wishes would go away except when parliamentary votes are being cast – makes no secret of his distaste for News Ltd and Murdoch.

The media organisations Fairfax and the ABC also seem to be finding it difficult to keep their bias against Murdoch in check although, to be fair, some pro Murdoch media have the same problem. And though Australia’s media allegedly reveres free speech, each section only uses the adjective when referring to those who share its particular brand of free speech.

Although I hold no brief for Murdoch it seems to me that jealousy underlies the campaign now being directed at Murdoch and his media empire by politicians and rival media. They envy him his success and so devote time, money and effort excoriating him from their personal altars of hypocrisy hoping their efforts will result in the collapse of his media empire.


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