Thursday, 7 July 2011

No more News of the World

Yesterday I tweeted about a disturbing interview on the morning news programme I love to hate:
media commenter says "*if* you have a free (unregulated) press, that comes with responsibility". Only to obey the law, surely!
I didn't have time to follow it up with a blog post, and there was precious little room to express my surprise and horror in 140 characters, so I was glad to see the story picked up by Tom Paine over at The Last Ditch:
Crimes have been committed here, as have civil wrongs. There must be prosecutions and I am sure there will be civil suits. Those who are liable (whether personally or vicariously) should be held to criminal and financial account. But I sincerely hope there will be no new laws to limit the freedom of the press and no wasteful public enquiries. What was done was already illegal. The "something" that everyone is baying "must be done" is already provided by law. A public enquiry (which the PM sadly seemed to concede today) will be yet another waste of public funds. Now is one of those recurring times to remember that laws are evils in themselves. New ones should only be made when they are lesser evils.
As to the ethical question, of course journalists should have standards. Of course they should be prepared to stand by them, even at the risk of not being able to pay their mortgages. I make no excuses for the conduct of the News of the World's journalists and editors in this case. I merely observe (as is equally true of The Guardian's readers who are defending a self-confessed liar because he lied to make their heroes look good) that the morals of a newspaper are those of its readers. You simply don't sell newspapers by telling your readers what they don't want to hear. Of the professional media outlets, only the BBC, compulsorily funded even by those who despise it, has the privilege to set its own line.
Lord Tebbit had similarly sensible things to say in his post yesterday evening:

There can be no excuses for what was done by investigators or journalists in the pay of editorial executives at The News Of The World. However, it would take a strong stomach not to be revolted at the smug, self satisfied journalists of the Left, who were ready with excuses for one of their kind recently uncovered as having regularly stolen the work of other writers and made a living by passing it off as his own, but are writhing with delight at the exposure, humiliation and possible downfall of their enemies in the far more popular and successful Murdoch press.

Even if there were to be no more revelations, enough is now known to be pretty sure that criminal offences have been committed. Those responsible should be prosecuted wherever there is sufficient evidence to do so. That includes those who procured the offences as well as they who actually committed them. And it might include police officers who assisted in the commission of offences.

It was great to see both Tebbit and Paine make the connection with Johann Hari, whose shamelessness beggars belief.

Tom Paine returned to the News of the World story in a subsequent post
A 'public inquiry' or even (God help us) 'inquiries', as mooted by the Prime Minister, will just provide opportunities for politicians to score points off each other. It will further infantalise a debate that is already being conducted, not least by Milliband Minor at PMQs today, at the level of an afternoon TV chat show.

Worst of all, the distinguished member of 'the Great and the Good" who chairs the inquiry will feel the need to immortalise him/herself by coming up with "deliverables" to be implemented by government. The most likely deliverables are bad laws that will interfere with press freedom.
But it was his original post that proved prescient:
Tony Blair's best mate Rupert Murdoch has it in his own hands to cleanse his tabloid stables and he is well hard enough to do it quickly and well. Having followed his career for many years, I imagine he is waiting only to be sure that when he strikes, he does not need to strike again, thus dragging the story out.
Sure enough, I heard on the radio after work that Murdoch has pulled the plug on The News of the World.

The good chaps at The Register win the prize for best headline:


Daniel Hannan sums things up nicely:
In the end, the News of the World was brought down by consumer pressure: a combination of the withdrawal of advertising and the likelihood of a popular boycott. Where lawsuits, libel actions, PCC rulings, government regulations and commercial rivals had failed, Adam Smith’s invisible hand succeeded.

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