Friday, July 15, 2011

Why we should all support News International

11th Century Cnut
…sort of. What I mean is that we should defend the powers that News International has abused so immorally because we'll miss them when they're gone.

Right now, there is nothing but pleasure in watching the agonies of Rupert Murdoch and his tottering empire. If, like me, the Dirty Digger looks for analogies in the 11th Century (and who doesn't?), he's probably imagining William the Conqueror (aka William the Bastard), though I was originally thinking more in terms of Basil the Bulgar-Slayer. The treatment of the News Of The World staff reminded me of Basil's ploy of blinding his prisoners but leaving every hundredth man with one eye so he could lead 99 others home. 

21st Century cnut
But now I'm thinking more in terms of King Cnut (hey, that's the scholarly way of spelling it. Stop sniggering). Cnut knew what he was doing when he put his throne in the path of the rising tide: he was showing his courtiers the limits of temporal power. Murdoch, on the other hand, doesn't seem to realise that the swirling waters are in danger of sweeping all his sandcastles away. If he's not careful, he could end up like Harold Godwineson. There are plenty of people queuing up to give him one in the eye.

One in the eye
Our politicians are exultant: suddenly they and their banker friends are no longer the lowest of the low in the public's eyes. Given half the chance, they will ride the wave of public revulsion and acquire the clean-nosed reputation they crave but don't deserve (with a few notable exceptions). They hope we won't look too closely, considering that most of those noses are far from clean, stained brown from years of being pressed tightly to the Murdoch sphincter.

Where's the down-side in all this? True, Murdoch deserves some credit for being an incredibly canny businessman who helped revolutionise journalism, and without him Fleet Street's broadsheets would probably look and read like the New York Times. But he put the tabloids firmly in the gutter and encouraged the relentlessly trivial approach to journalism that allowed the great and the powerful to get away with all manner of wrongdoing as long as it didn't involve their todgers. 

And that's another reason why politicians are revelling in Murdoch's distress. They can see a chance to shackle the press for good, and that's terrible for democracy. If it happens, Murdoch's legacy will be to have created a political and commercial class that is as untouchable and unaccountable as Catholic priests have been.

While the government was planning an illegal war, MPs were embezzling public funds and bankers were draining the lifeblood of the economy, the might of the press (Murdoch and others) was fully deployed in the vital task of finding out which B-list celebrities were knobbing without due care and attention or in pruriently feeding on the grief of murder victims. 

Good journalists have often had to bend or even break the law to find out the stories that the powerful wanted to keep hidden. If the press is put under the kind of restrictions that some are now calling for, then we will have to add the destruction of the free press to Murdoch's crimes. The public will be like the Bulgars: a stumbling army of the blind, except that the one-eyed man leading the way will now himself be blindfolded. 

Moral: News International isn't worth fighting for. Journalism is.

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