The Murdoch backlash has been soured by distasteful elitism and a lack of regard for press freedomby Brendan O Neill / July 19, 2011 / Leave a comment
These are deeply troubling times for press freedom. On 7th July, the News of the World, a newspaper of some 168 years’ standing, which could boast 7.5m readers on a good Sunday, was silenced. It was shut down by its proprietor, Rupert Murdoch, but under pressure from a relentless Guardian investigation into phone hacking and a Twitter campaign to get big corporations to pull their ads from Murdoch’s top tabloid.
The following day, Prime Minister David Cameron promised to clean up the press. Seemingly having forgotten that the media are supposed to investigate the government, rather than vice versa, he announced that he would set up an inquiry examining press standards, ethics and behaviour. He’ll also look into setting up a regulatory body with “more teeth”—and therefore presumably more bite—than the Press Complaints Commission. Most ominously, he refashioned, Orwellian-style, the old media slogan about speaking truth to power. “It is vital that a free press can tell truth to power; it is equally vital that those in power can tell truth to the press,” he warned.
The next day, on Saturday 9th July, the Metropolitan Police raided the offices of the Daily Star Sunday. They rifled through the files and belongings of Clive Goodman, the former News of the World royal editor who was jailed for phone-hacking and who now does shifts at the Star. Meanwhile, celebrities and respectable broadsheet journalists joined the clamour for tighter regulation of the press—or at least of the grubbier, less erudite sections of the press. Hugh Grant won rapturous applause on Question Time when he said “I’m not for regulating the proper press, the broadsheet press. But it is insane that the tabloid press is left unregulated.” The Independent‘s Yasmin Alibhai-Brown even suggested in a debate on BBC radio that perhaps journalists should require a licence—from the state—before they can report and write. When the issue of licensing was put to Alan Rusbridger, editor of the Guardian, in a debate about tabloid phone-hacking, he would only say that the “notion of state licensing for the press” made him feel “anxious.” “But I’d be interested to hear other views,” he added.
A newspaper editor who only feels “anxious” about state licensing of newspapers, rather than, say, angry or outraged, might want to ask himself if he is in the right profession. Newspapers did once require a license from the authorities, but that system was abolished…