Rupert Murdoch’s decision to close the 168 yr old News of the World seemed both shocking and appropriate: the sleaziest newspaper in Britain had finally out-sleazed itself with it’s illegal phone-tapping activities and bowed out of the lucrative Sunday trade in tits and gossip with an apologetic last issue.
Personally, I shed no tears, one less tabloid doesn’t seem a bad thing at all and though I feel for the 200 workers who will no longer trudge down to Wapping, I hope that they’ll find gainful employment at a better kind of media outlet. I’ve been bearing a minor grudge for the disreputable rag since I was a teenager and was a target myself. Back in the early 1980s I was expelled from boarding school for my extra-curricular activities with the film crew of The French Lieutenant’s Woman. My parents, understandably furious, had me on lockdown at home but relented when a certain Simon Pipe, the son of a friend of theirs, asked to take me out for an evening. The diminutive Pipe was a few years my senior and was working as a reporter for a provincial newspaper, he listened sympathetically over several pints and a pack of cigarettes to my woeful and scandalous tale and then wasted no time in selling my story: days later the headline “Schoolgirls in Sex Romp with TV Men” appeared on page six of the smutrag News of the World. The true story I’d told Pipe about the Red Barn party, (which for me began and ended in the dark, puking up red wine onto a hay bale) didn’t make the copy as this was a typical NoW article: around 750 words, most of them sex, booze, underage. Although I was a minor and could not be named it made matters worse for me with my parents and the school, I was already at an all-time low but being sold out by a friend certainly dragged me down to a new level of despair. I just couldn’t believe that Pipe, a smart enough fellow, would pursue a career as a hack writing smut not news.
The red-tops, as the tabloids are known in Britain, have always made me feel a bit squirmy, it was my least favorite dullard uncle who would rest the News of the World ( or The Sun) on his beer belly, and greedily view the tits and ass photos. I knew from an early age that these kind of newspapers were not ‘nice’ and that respectable people didn’t buy “gossip rags” as my mother called them. Social realities in a class society are never so simple though; later at college when I was dating an ex-Etonian I was horrified that he and his posh mates loved The Sun, and read it laughingly every day. Their snickering seemed in poor taste to me — they were amused at the shit shoveled up to the working classes, where I felt sad and even sickened, both by the low tastes of the proletariat and the newspaper ethos which kept feeding them drivel about wayward vicars and the ubiquitous tits.
Murdoch the Australian mogul, was always seen as a dark presence in British media, cast as the base prodigal son; brash, disrespectful and powerful. Not satisfied with the tabloids he acquired in the late 1960s ( News of the World and The Sun) in 1981 he took over The Times and The Sunday Times and segued into a position of media power that politicians could not ignore. That Murdoch had a political agenda is indisputable, in 1986 when he replaced his traditional printing presses with electronic production processes, 6000 union jobs were lost. Murdoch’s move to Wapping had the support of Prime Minister Thatcher together they weakened the printers’ union, undermining the Trade Union movement, a priority for Mags. Murdoch moved on to gobble up a big chunk of the US media, now controlling not only Fox but also the Wall Street Journal.
In the last twenty years it has become increasingly obvious that the media is not impartial, a newspaper is known to be left or right leaning even when its pages are not full of gossip and fluff. Murdoch himself does not really deny his role- humbly he tells us that he enters 10 Downing St through the back door, as he is told to. Even now as the utter shabbiness of his newspaper ethos is being exposed – along with the privileged machinations of the power elite I can’t help wondering; are we just getting this juicy bone served up to us as a smoke screen for some truly terrible news (maybe the balls-up in Libya, ditto at Fukushima or the poisoned seas that we are still eating fish from)
Whether this scrutiny of newspaper practices and the media’s close relationship with political powerholders will lead to jail sentences and significant changes in the role of the media remains to be seen. I wonder about Julian Assange, Anonymous and the other radical hackers, we are not hearing much from Julian but his transparency agenda is surely cathartic, an inspiration to those exposing the dastardly directive of Murdoch’s empire. LucSec hacked The Sun’s website and placed a fake story about Murdoch’s suicide but this kind of action is really just hors d’oeure to the main course: the brutal decline of News Corp honchos and their associates.
This story is moving so fast there are literally hundreds of articles being written commenting on the vagaries and the general downward spiral of News Corp. The prevalent churnalism of contemporary newsrooms, where press releases and secondhand material are re-jigged for publication, is suddenly redundant. Journalists are pulling out all the stops, writing inspired polemics on the state of the media, grey matter is convulsing ecstatically with the implications of a new media landscape being created out of the shameful recent past.
Lets not get the bunting and trifle out yet though, lets not feast on the sacrificial critters Murdoch is tossing overboard like the greedy rats they are. I hope that real reform will transpire both in the media and in politics now that we see how our newspapers and our elected representatives are colluding. Perhaps now more people will turn to Al-Jazeera, admiring the pioneering spirit of Wadah Khanfar, who is the CEO and editorial director and the joys of a weekly column by David Frost. Margaret Drabble writing in the Independent rejoiced at the potentiality for a resurgence in fine jounalism whilst thrilling with her description of Brooks as “Snakelocks”. Is the splendid-looking Rebekah the arrogant social climbing arselick that her ex-workers portray her as? or is she just another dumb yes-woman, who rode Murdoch’s ghastly coattails, either way she is is looking pretty much out in the cold right now. Julie Burchill disappointed me by writing a sloppy piece strung together from a snoringly pointless story about a girls’ lunch in Brighton ten years ago with ”Bex” — how they went to a fortune-teller that afternoon and Bex got told that she’d find true love with a rich man… somehow Burch’s point is that Murdoch’s scene, unlike her 90s novel, Ambition, was unsexy… But never mind Burchill’s droning, Robert Fisk, never disappoints, he chimed in with a great piece about why he had to give up writing for the Times way back when.
The most sinister story now concerns the untimely death of Sean Hoare, the original phone-hacking whistleblower. The police are saying that his death is not suspicious and that he had drink and drug problems, but who believes them anymore? Incidentally what about the follow-up on the laptop linked to Champagne Charlie Brooks that they found in a dustbin in the parking garage at his workplace? The police are in it up to their helmet straps, when Commissioner Sir Paul Stephenson resigned, police credibility, already tarnished took a hot cup of tea in the crotch.
So I have one other News of the World story, this one from the early 90s, my partners in art and I had a photo, an “art photo”, a portrait which featured one of them posing with a cadaver. As this “artist” was associated with a gallery that was part-owned by Melons Royalbitch we figured we’d sell the pic & the story, make some money and embarrass the gallery and the Windsors. We went down to Wapping at night to meet the hack, and were told to wait in the security hut just inside the high perimeter fence topped with barbed wire. As I looked out of the window at the prison-like premises, my tears blurred the sodium lights which lit up the compound. I despised my sleaziness and felt sick to my stomach about what we were poised to transact for a few pathetic grand. And so we left with our photo and years later limited editions of that photo were produced and some other sleazes made money off of it as art not outrage.
Terence McKenna said that 2012 would represent a consciousness shift not an apocalyptic finale. If we choose our news sources intelligently perhaps we will make it so.