Thursday, July 07, 2011

NOTW scandal: everyone is running for cover

As I suggested a couple of days ago, the News International phone hacking scandal is emerging as a humdinger - very much the British Watergate. The Management of NI is implicated, and there is now an increasing focus on the relationship between the Police and NI which links corrupt payments made for information directly to the initial cover-up of the extent and scope of the phone hacking.

As advertisers now run for cover, as those whose phones were or may have been hacked express increasing outrage, life at the top of News International seems set to become very lonely. Jeremy Hunt's rightful decision to delay his decision on integrating BSKYB with the rest of the News International organisation may the first of many blows to hit the Dirty Digger.

The fact is that the scandal is gaining stronger momentum as the politicians realize that they are finally free of the pressure from Murdoch. All of the dirt on all of the politicians in the world will now avail News International nothing: there is a universal determination to cut NI down to size. For years I have argued that NI would eventually face a moment of truth as its arrogance and ambition overshot their judgement. By allowing routine criminality, albeit with the connivance of the Police, that point was reached many years ago- the difference is that now we know.

We know that NI routinely broke the law. We know that when this scandal first broke, the Police did not investigate these crimes efficiently, and there appears to a deliberate cover-up. We know that political and possibly Royal figures- indeed anyone in the public eye- faced the threat of blackmail implicitly, and it now appears sometimes explicit threats were made too. We know that these practices were known about at or very close to the top of the News International Organisation.

We also know that the public disgust at these revelations is likely to destroy the News of the World, and even has the potential to take down News International itself. However much the Times- another Murdoch title- may shed crocodile tears for the ethics of "journalism", in fact the crime is a bit more specific and a lot closer to home than that. It is Murdoch journalism that must be condemned and it is Murdoch journalism that must take the consequences of their crimes.

As David Cameron rues the day he hired Andy Coulson- as I said he would- Labour, despite their fierce attack on the hated Murdoch will not be able to hide from their own collusion either. Peter Mandelson is as implicated in this as any politician could be. This scandal is not only going to be about phone hacking and a Police cover-up, it will also be about the long term relationship between politics and the press, particularly the Murdoch press. Only the Lib Dems are likely to emerge unscathed- since Murdoch's loathing and contempt for the Liberal Democrats was well documented, but there will be many political figures in both Labour and the Tories who are running for cover and hoping like hell that the rest of the press have short memories.

This will be a tipping point for the relationship between the old media and their readers/viewers. In the week that the Huffington Post opens its UK website, it is perhaps significant that the world of the print media seems set to be turned upside down. The Murdoch titles certainly the News of the World and The Sun, and possibly The Times and the Sunday Times as well could face a boycott. Certainly the fact that advertisers are dropping the NoTW and the Royal British Legion will no longer work with that title must be creating some worry in Wapping. It is hardly surprising that the value of the parent company has been slashed in trading around the world.

Those of us "Naive" enough to criticize Murdoch's journalistic ethics were always told that in the end it was a matter of economics. After the value of NI shares have been hammered over the past few days, it seems that the damage to the News International brand is not merely cosmetic. Likewise the value of BSkyB has also fallen. It is clear that investors are no longer comfortable with the Murdoch family's trusteeship of their money. That is a situation that is unlikely to be turned around anytime soon. In the end Ethics and Economics have turned out to be surprisingly allied. That is a point that should not be lost on those political figures most compromised by this exploding scandal.

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