While the closure of the News of the World (NoW) announced on 7 July 2011 was astonishing and unexpected, given that it is both highly profitable and has a very wide circulation, the reason for its closure, namely, the discovery of widespread phone hacking by its employees in search of sensationalist stories, hardly seemed worthy of the shock-horror treatment it was receiving throughout the bourgeois media.
Tacky, yes, but hardly any less tacky than the subsequent newspaper stories focusing on the peccadilloes of the rich, famous or royal, or exploiting the grief of the bereaved. Such stories are hugely popular, sell newspapers, sell advertising space, and rake in the cash.
Whatever way such stories are extracted from people who would not speak to the press voluntarily about the matters in question will always be underhand: use of private detectives, journalists acting as peeping toms, ‘befriending’ employees, bribing staff, etc, etc. Anybody who reads such material can hardly be unaware of the underhand way in which a great deal of the information is obtained.
The Guardian had been campaigning for years about phone hacking at the News of the World, but had excited only mild interest.
Split in the ranks of the bourgeoisie over threatened broadcasting monopoly
All of a sudden, however, the gloves were off. The catalyst appears to have been the probability, as it then was, of Rupert Murdoch obtaining a controlling interest in BSkyB. This would have given him a virtual monopoly over all ‘independent’ TV broadcasting in the UK, something that did alarm various bourgeois elements considerably.
To prevent him obtaining this, all those whose toes he had trodden on over the years as he built up his empire were mobilised as one to bring him down. The aggrieved include not only those of the rich, famous or royal whose private affairs have been blazoned throughout the Murdoch press, but also a great part of the media world – those who remember the employees screwed at the time of the Wapping debacle, the BBC, which was necessarily targeted by Murdoch as he sought to expand his commercial empire, and generally bourgeois elements of a more liberal persuasion than Murdoch.
All came together to whip up a positive hysteria about News of the World reporters hacking into the mobile of a murder victim and the relatives of soldiers killed in Afghanistan, which from being merely tacky, if illegal, suddenly became as seriously criminal as serial sadistic paedophile murder.
Murdoch hoped that by sacrificing the News of the World he would be able to calm down this hysteria, but it was not to be. Now he stands to lose everything, as advertisers have withdrawn their support, and both the UK and US governments have suddenly found the urge to investigate his routine improprieties with a view to prising his control off the rest of his media empire.
A can of worms
Underneath the hysteria, the scandal has lifted the lid off the intimacy of the relations between the imperialist bourgeoisie on the one hand, and bourgeois governments, political parties, and arms of the bourgeois state such as the police and judiciary on the other. It has shown how the latter work hand in glove with the big bourgeoisie, and how they are quite prepared to cover up illegality when the bourgeoisie so demands.
Sometimes bribes are paid for actual acts of dishonesty, such as £1,000 to a policeman for the private mobile numbers of members of the royal family. Sometimes it is just a question of cosy relations and weekends at Chequers, stays on health farms, or well-paid advisory posts for retired hacks and cops.
But the fact of the matter is that when the bourgeoisie says jump, its governments, police and courts follow its bidding. The likes of Murdoch make it known to the governments that if they do not kowtow to the demands of the bourgeoisie, then come the next election they will be out of office. So kowtow they do. And with Murdoch’s demise, it should not be imagined that things will change very much! There are plenty of would-be media moguls to step in to take his place.
Press subservience exposed
As far as the employees of News International, or indeed any other news company, are concerned, then if they want promotion, or even to keep their jobs, they too must do as they are told. They are told to hack into private telephone calls, so of course they do – or they get out of the business.
This, however, is culpa levis (a minor sin) compared with the way they respond – on the orders of the boss – to the demands of the bourgeoisie to misreport what is happening in the world, to lie to the public, and to give the bourgeoisie every support and assistance in its preparations for war against any country, or other punitive measures designed to force other countries to bow the knee to western imperialism and cough up tribute.
Only this week, Thierry Meyssan, a French journalist staying in a Tripoli (Libya) hotel with a host of others reported that they were all taken on the authority of the Libyan government to see the effects of Nato bombing on a farm close to Tripoli. All duly went and took the necessary photographs, which appeared the following day in the imperialist media with a claim that they were pictures of the effect of Gaddafi’s alleged bombing of Misurata!!! (For Meyssan’s report, in French, see dailymotion.com)
Importance of the campaign for refusal to cooperate with war crimes
The overwhelming majority of bourgeois journalists dutifully suppress any information that it does not suit imperialism to make public – such as the millions turning out in Tripoli every week to demonstrate in support of Gaddafi, or the hundreds of thousands of civilians killed over the years in the imperialist bombing raids on not only Libya but also Iraq, Yemen, Yugoslavia, Afghanistan, Pakistan, etc. Yet they will weep buckets of crocodile tears over the comparatively few civilians killed on 9/11 or the Madrid or London bombings!
When our party put before the Stop the War Coalition a resolution to urge unions to adopt the slogan of ‘No cooperation with war crimes’, it was very much to encourage unions to support their members in situations in which journalists routinely find themselves: ie, in danger of being victimised if they do or say what is right (eg, as Andrew Gilligan was when he blew the whistle on the ‘dodgy dossier’ relating to Iraq’s fictitious weapons of mass destruction).
In the meantime, heads are rolling. What prime minister David Cameron referred to as a “firestorm” has already brought about the resignation of a host of bigwigs, from Andy Coulson (press adviser to David Cameron and former NoW editor), to Rebekah Brooks (head of News International and former NoW editor), Sir Paul Stephenson (Metropolitan Police Chief Commissioner) and John Yates (Sir Paul’s assistant).
To cap it all, the former NoW journalist who is said to have blown the whistle on Andy Coulson has been found dead. Police say “foul play is not suspected” – but who is going to believe that?
It would seem that all this is just the beginning.
As a Daily Telegraph editorial on 19 July put it, “David Cameron last week called it a firestorm and he was right. Firestorms are unpredictable in their trajectory and hard to put out. The flames are now licking at the door of No 10.” And there are exceptionally good reasons why they should be:
“David and Samantha Cameron shared a family dinner with James Murdoch, the deputy chief operating officer of News Corporation, and his wife Kathryn, and Rebekah Brooks, the chief executive of News International, and her husband Charlie on 23 December last year.” Of course, that in itself is unimpeachable. The problem is that:
“Two days previously, Mr Cameron had removed decision-making powers over the BSkyB bid from Vince Cable after the Business Secretary made unguarded comments that he had ‘gone to war’ with Rupert Murdoch, the chairman of News Corp.” (‘Christopher Hope phone hacking: David Cameron dinner with James Murdoch “broke the ministers” code’, Daily Telegraph, 19 June 2011)
In these circumstances, it is hard to avoid the conclusion that Cameron intervened to try to help his friends at News International ensure that the BSkyB bid succeeded. When this is combined with the fact that Cameron’s press adviser was a former News Corp employee … It is not beyond the bounds of possibility that William Hague will have to be brought back to head the Conservative party.
Journalism’s role remains unchanged
Notwithstanding the increasingly possible sticky end of Rupert Murdoch, it will continue to be the job of bourgeois journalists, unless their unions can be persuaded to fight for truth and justice, to mislead the public wherever the bourgeoisie deems it necessary that the public be misled.
The bourgeoisie itself, of course, does need the truth, but the truth is all too often classified material, not to be openly revealed. Meanwhile, newspapers aimed at ordinary people continue to be filled with a toxic mix of escapist gossip, incitements to consumerism (‘lifestyle’ pieces), sports and culture (music, film etc) coverage that supports the needs of those fields of human endeavour as profit-making industries rather than being a celebration of talent, and the kind of ‘news’ reporting that so mangles and doctors reality that those who bother to read it are often as much in the dark about what’s really happening in the world as those who don’t.