On November 3rd this year, short of a major Conservative rebellion or popular uprising – neither of which are remotely likely – the new Bill to install a State-backed information-gathering ban will pass into Law. In the first of three articles, The Slog traces how we got to here, and the main players involved in this, the tertiary stage of installing corporatism in the UK.
There are two major trends at play in Britain’s media at the moment – not counting its helter-skelter ride down into the sewer of sensationalism via the lowlands of lascivious titte-tattle, valleys of voyeurism, and rivers of revelation. Sometimes using the forests of frivolity, and occasionally falling between the cracks of criminal surveillance, the media dig deep into the salt flats of sanctimony, occasionally resurfacing via the geyser of gushing prose up into the mountains of metaphor. In short, most of the content is written by ill-educated morons in pursuit of jabbering monkeys. And if you think this paragraph is funny, you should see some of the real ones.
The two trends are these: an attempt on the one hand by vicious moguls – with a power that extends way beyond their media empires – to rise above the law; and a campaign of both legal harassment and dark spin by the Government designed to stifle the criticisms of those who are not (see first line) ‘vicious moguls, with power that extends way beyond their media empires’.
The frequent San Andreas level of friction between these (to my mind, very clear) strategies is equal only to the power mania being exhibited by each side, and thus makes it hard to avoid wishing a plague on both houses. But such would be to miss what’s really going on here. For the battle is really between a corporately-owned government (two of whose media allies just happen to be on the control team) and those media still trying to hold sovereign and corporate governance to account….to sell newspapers for sure, but also on behalf of We the Citizenry.
I propose to look at the controlling moguls first, and the Camerlot legal/spin campaign afterwards. There will be some very straight, jugular-slashing accusations going on, so vegetarians should look away now.
Media, but not as we know them, Jim
The two empires we’re talking about here are Newscorp and Barclaytwin. The former has more brainpower in Rupert Murdoch’s bladder sphincter than the latter Telegraph Group in toto, but they both wield enormous influence, and offer an equally weird (albeit different) perversion of what the Fourth Estate is supposed to be about.
News UK/international/corp – or whatever it’s calling itself this year to fox the naïve – has, despite the regular ‘respectability relaunches’, never hidden its lust for power.
In April 1992, Citizen Murdockane used The Sun to gloat that it alone had won an historic fourth successive election for the Conservative Party. In 1997 it switched support to Labour, and unquestionably handed the baton to closet Tory rock star Tony Bluuurrrgh. In 2008-9 (using Jeremy Berkeley-Hunt as the go-between in New York) it switched back to create the Camerlot Crock we know and loathe today.
But when David Cameron failed to get a clear majority in May 2010 – and then later committed the far greater sin of not keeping Rebekah Brooks and Andy Coulson out of Court – Hissing Sid Murdoch turned on the Tory leader in a fit of full-on multiple bite Aussie snake-venom. Murdoch played mind games with his support for the SNP and threat to relocate Newscorp in Glasgow, while making overtures to UKip’s Nigel Farage, who at that time looked like a major electoral threat….as opposed to the empty pot he later turned out to be.
Distressed beyond belief at this development, London Mayor Doris Jobsdone held two unrecorded meetings at City Hall with Rebekah and Rupert. Far be it from me to suggest a causality here, but pretty soon the Rule of Law became a casualty: Brooks got off after disgraceful connivance by the cps, while sufficiently bent judges ensured that Coulson’s real sentence was to spend three minutes in a *****
hotel jail and then be acquitted (without a lot of tedious and impertinent jury involvement) on a charge of blatant perjury.
Back on the offensive, the reconfigured NewsUK has now gone way beyond journalism and into the same threat-riddled attacks on the Justice system as it had previously launched against luckless politicians and showbizz celebrities. The Times has engaged of late in a concerted attack upon those inside the cps who would dare to bring corporate malfeasance charges against the Holy Rupert Empire. And old Turdoch himself has reappointed Rebekah Brooks as the CEO. Perhaps more than any other single action, this last one was Roop saying, “F**k you, I can do whatever I want”.
Telegraph Media Group is a non-league club compared to the ‘anti-Toff’ hypocrisy of the Diggers; but even so, the power still wielded by the Teletubby Channel Island tax avoiders should not be underestimated when it comes to Britain’s smug Home Counties pub commentariat.
As George Orwell wrote, “Journalism is the process of getting something published that the powerful don’t want published. The rest is just PR”. How very true: and how very sad that the ToryNaff Group has chosen to invert journalism in a manner so flagrant, even the 1984 man would’ve been startled.
While the Telegraph still goes through the motions of writing ‘advertisement feature’ on its official PR content, the paid-for-under-the-table stuff is nauseatingly hagiographic. The week before last even Sky went for some of it, but more infamous cases where the Teletubbies have been caught out doing a Bell Pottinger include that of HSBC, where the bank – up to its eyes in corruption and toxic clients – paid money to have the Telegraph clean up the record here and there. It was also alleged that the bank paid the title off to suppress grubby stuff it knew, but to the best of my knowledge that remained accusation rather than established fact.
True or false, even a whiff of any newspaper using knowledge for the purposes of blackmail is, for any serious hack, the journalistic equivalent of murderous paedophilia. After getting wind of what was going on, the hugely respected political journalist Peter Oborne quit the company. Now the only writer with any genuine credibility is Ambrose Evans-Pritchard – but even he clings like a limpet to the idea that, economically, things aren’t as bad as they seem, and recovery is nearer than we think.
Dark Spin and Legal bullying from Camerlot
It is nevertheless typical of The Odd Couple that even today they are trying to run with both hare and hounds. The week before last, they switched to pompous mode in order to attack the post-Leveson ‘laws’ now being proposed by head of the Home Office typing pool, Theresa May. Turning up the outrage to full volume, the column lashed out at her proposals as ‘the most substantial threat to press freedom in the modern era…menacing…pernicious new law….It amounts to the end of 300 years of press freedom in Britain, and no news organisation has signed up to the proposed new system…..investigative journalism will be stopped dead in its tracks…reporting of the MPs expenses scandal would never have come out under these laws’.
While the Telegraph scribbling this kind of tub-thumping stuff is on a par with Irma la Douce complaining about the dilution of sexual morals, the unfortunate fact is that the paper’s analysis is spot-on. And it really all goes back to the Leveson Inquiry: for it was during its sessions that the politicisation of the judicial system became sickeningly obvious.
Tomorrow at The Slog: Phone hacking & Elm House – the damning evidence against Lord Leveson and Boris Johnson