Saturday, 9 July 2011

News of the World

The News of the World died as it had lived....destroying people’s lives.

As a member of the National Union of Journalists, I’m appalled that so many reporters and newspaper production staff have lost their jobs through no fault of their own.  It was not rank-and-file Journalists or sub-editors or printers who hacked into people’s phones, including those of murder victims and members of their immediate family.  The senior editors and executives who sanctioned such heinous acts are still in their jobs, but around 400 dedicated staff members have been given their P45s, without consultation or just cause.

Rupert Murdoch, the arch-Capitalist who runs News Corporation, the News of the World’s parent company, took the decision to close the tabloid newspaper because of the general public’s reaction to how its bosses had behaved.  People were shocked and angry.  Businesses pulled their advertising.  Murdoch looked at the situation and decided to close down the News of the World before it affected other parts of his global news corporation.  The action had nothing to do with any contrition or feeling of having done wrong by Rupert Murdoch and his senior managers: the motivation was financial.  Murdoch wanted to safeguard his profit margins, and staff members who had nothing to do with the scandal that engulfed the News of the World were considered to be expendable and paid with their jobs.

Already there is speculation that Murdoch saw an opportunity to reduce staff numbers and production costs by closing the News of the World and rescheduling working-time rotas at the Sun, moving that paper to seven-day publishing and introducing a ‘Sun on Sunday’ to replace the News of the World.  It would seem that, when you are a money-grabbing Capitalist rogue like Rupert Murdoch, even dark clouds cast by your company being caught hacking into the phones of murdered schoolgirls and dead soldiers can have a financial silver lining.

Of course, I’m biased in this matter.  I’m a Journalist and a socialist.  I stand on the side of ethical journalism.  I stand on the side of the people’s right to know and of full disclosure.

Readers have to be able to trust a newspaper’s content and know that reporters have secured information on a legitimate basis. 

However, the News of the World appears to think ethics is a county in England.  Along with its sister title - the Sun - the News of the World was most responsible for the low esteem in which tabloid journalists are held by much of the public.  Yet even those who already despised the newspaper and its gutter content must have been shocked at the latest revelations regarding the phone-hacking scandal.

What started as a run-of-the-mill story about a private investigator working for the News of the World and listening into the voicemail messages of Z-list celebrities and wannabes, suddenly became extremely serious.  Allegations that News of the World bosses sanctioned the hacking of mobile phones belonging to murder victims and their immediate families took the paper to new, previously unimaginable depths.

It’s also been common knowledge that certain newspapers will pay for a story, but disclosure that the News of the World broke the law by paying serving police officers for information about live investigations raised issues of corruption at the heart of an organisation the public must be able to trust.  The demise of the News of the World leaves unanswered questions, such as, who was calling the shots in these investigations, and to which paymaster were police officers answering?

In addition to the latest revelations, the News of the World had a long history of what it liked to call ‘stings’, where covert recordings were made of celebrities or public figures making unguarded or tactless comments.  Another word for what the paper did is entrapment.

Meanwhile, at the time of writing, it was being speculated that the former editor of the News of the World, Andy Coulson – who was subsequently head of the prime minister’s press office – might be facing arrest.  Certainly, evidence now exists that suggests Coulson perjured himself at the Tommy Sheridan perjury trial.  It would seem Mr Coulson doesn’t do irony.

When asked by Tommy Sheridan if the News of the World had ever paid corrupt police officers, Andy Coulson replied, under oath, “Not to my knowledge.”  Unfortunately for him, though, the News of the World had apparently retained copies of e-mails that record Mr Coulson as the senior official at the newspaper who signed-off payments to individual police officers.  Perhaps the former Downing Street spin-doctor will argue he gave an honest answer to Tommy’s question, on the basis that when he authorised the payments the police were not corrupt, but they were when they pocketed the paper’s money.

Journalists need to cultivate sources, and must be prepared to protect those who speak-out and reveal issues that are of public interest.  However, there is a world of difference between legitimate sources providing information to substantiate a story, and what the News of the World did – which apparently included manufacturing stories, corrupting officials, illegally intercepting personal phone messages and even possibly misleading investigating police officers and grieving parents.  Nothing can condone or legitimise the News of the World’s actions, and Murdoch’s decision to sack the workers, while retaining the bosses behind the phone hacking and bribing of police, simply compounds the disgrace.

Few will mourn the passing of the News of the World – but the wrong people are paying the price of Rupert Murdoch’s greed and the malicious and unforgivable behaviour of his senior executives.

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