Friday, July 08, 2011

News International faces Nemesis

James Murdoch has not cooled public anger with his closure of the News of the World. In fact the large number of sackings that this tactical move involves makes his own position, not just that of the indefensible Rebekah Brooks, increasingly precarious. He may also- simply as collateral damage- have wrecked industrial relations in the rest of Wapping. Certainly there are rumours of sympathy strikes at The Sun. More importantly though, the radical move has been greeted with a mixture of cynicism and cold fury in the wider world. Cynicism, because creating a seven day Sun has clearly been a Murdoch goal for some time and cold fury, because the 400 or so NoTW workers lose their jobs while Brooks- for the moment- still keeps hers. The rest of the media are uniting to give the entire Murdoch business the biggest kicking that they can muster.

James Murdoch's strategy: sacrifice NoTW now, Brooks later, looks pretty threadbare, indeed is so transparently an attempt to save his own skin, that it may fall to pieces pretty quickly. In the US culture of "the Buck stops here", Murdoch Junior would already be packing his bags. That, of course, raises questions about the judgement- and nepotism- of Murdoch senior too. Those judgments will be more exposed than ever at the next News Corp AGM.

Now, despite the tactical sacrifice of the NoTW title, it is clear that further revelations are coming- and that they will not simply involve the NoTW. James Murdoch, of course, will be setting the dogs on the competition- and the other red-tops are being studiously quiet on the scandal. However, even if -say- The Times happens upon some juice at the Express, Mirror or Mail its publication would be seen not as a "fearless expose", but as desperate mud slinging. Murdoch Junior is backing himself into a corner if he thinks that by raising the ante to the competition he can get to safety. The fact is that it is going to be next to impossible to completely isolate the Sun -and perhaps not even The Times and the Sunday Times- from the scandal

Meanwhile the second and third stage of the scandal are about to break. The arrest of Andy Coulson, which is much touted for today, brings the problem into the heart of the Prime Minister's office. The political dimension will only grow as it becomes ever clear just how far Rupert Murdoch's writ has been running in British politics. As a minimum, there is going to be a backlash against those political figures involved- and Cameron can not escape undamaged. It will also become politically impossible to permit the takeover of BSkyB for the foreseeable future- and a less determined man than Rupert Murdoch would make a tactical withdrawal now until the scandal cools. For as long as the bid remains on the table, the issue of News International business ethics will provoke stronger public anger- and in the end may lead to a forced divestiture of either the Newspapers of of BSkyB. Of course if NI now fails the fit an proper test, then it might even be both.

For the fact is that the relationship- the corrupt relationship- of NI with the Police is only now coming into focus. The scale of payments to officers, payments which are illegal, is more substantial than has so far been disclosed. The relationship was founded on money inducements, but there is also some evidence that Murdoch employees may have routinely blackmailed both police and political figures. It is also clear that surveillance of different targets went way beyond simple phone hacking. In many cases a full scale surveillance operation was mounted. The size of these operations- with the co-operation of Police figures, let us not forget- would not have disgraced the KGB.

In fact, of course, there is the suggestion that foreign intelligence agencies were also penetrating the Murdoch newsroom. The idea that Russians or Chinese- or even the French or Americans- were listening into George Osborne's hacked phone is one that will give our own MI5 the screaming heeby-geebies.

The sacrifice of NotW does not end the scandal- in fact it reminds us what an astonishing situation is emerging. The tentacles of implication run across British politics, and sooner or later the bombs that they are leaving will explode. Murdoch Junior- I predict- will not survive either.

1 comment:

Richard T said...

I agree that the closure of the News of the World looks like a strange mixture of naivety, cynicism and panic. It seems highly doubtful that it's going to stop the flow of bad news - not least since the police are now under so much pressure that they cannot afford to let things go slack. In addition, I'm not sure about Andy Coulson but presumably the birds from the News of the World are going to be singing pretty soon. So having taken down one line of defence how much longer for the flame haired temptress and Murdoch junior? One commentator gave her until the end of next week.