Saturday, 16 July 2011

Hacked Off!

"The journalist's 'lack of convictions', the prostitution of his experiences and beliefs is comprehensible only as the apogee of capitalist reification." - Georg Luk√°cs

The love affair between Rupert Murdoch and the Establishment may have finally come to an end, or at least it has been derailed by the people of this country and not it's owners. Rupert Murdoch walked away from his bid to takeover BSkyB just before it faced a vote in Parliament which would have no doubt opposed News International. Though it would have been interesting to see who exactly stands by Murdoch after all of this. It has been quite a journey, just last week Rupert Murdoch was standing by Rebekah Brooks and he has just nudged her off of the cliff. The difference is that The News of the World is now gone after 168 years, 43 of which have been spent in the claws of Murdoch - at least until it is relaunched as The Sun on Sunday. As I'd like to see burning mountains of The Times and The Sun in the streets of London I have to admit that this is a damn good day. It is even possible that the damage done to News International is enough for yet more closures, this could be the beginning of the end for Murdoch's "animal spirit".

It was clear that the Murdoch press has been out of control for quite some time. The public was disgusted when it turned out that the paper had hacked the phones of a murdered teenage girl, to the extent of actually deleting voice mails in order to receive even more voice mails. This functioned to give the illusion that the girl might be alive to her family. Then it turned out that these journalists also hacked the phones of war widows and the victims of 7/7. Now there is even word of hacking the phones of 9/11 victims. The criminal conspiracy went as far as bribing police officers and even enveloped the Conservative Party as Andy Coulson made the jump from tabloid fuck-monkey to public relations fuck-monkey. But this is not an entirely new dimension to the drama of Murdoch-Tory relations. Let's not forget what happened in Wapping back in 1986 when the collusion between the Conservative government and the Metropolitan police with Rupert Murdoch left the print unions smashed. It was also The Sun that led the media campaign against the Miners in '84 to '85.

In 1988 The News of the World was one of the tabloids that hounded the gay chat-show host Russell Harty and upped the ante as Harty lay dying in a hospital bed from hepatitis. Journalists from all of the tabloids even posed as junior doctors to get a hold of Harty's medical notes and photographers rented a flat just opposite Harty's hotel room. Alan Bennett later said, at Harty's funeral, that "The gutter press finished him." There was an immediate reaction from Murdoch's attack dogs, specifically in The Sun, "Stress did not kill Russell Harty. The truth is that he died from a sexually transmitted disease. the press didn't give it to him. He caught it from his own choice. And by paying young rent boys he broke the law. Some - like ageing bachelor Mr Bennett - can see no harm in that. He has no family. But what if it had been YOUR son Harty had bedded?" It was that same red-top that claimed in the aftermath of the Hillsborough disaster that fans robbed the dead and pissed on "brave cops". Murdoch made Kelvin MacKenzie apologise through his teeth for that one.

This is just the tip of the ice-berg. In the US the Mephistopheles found Roger Ailes to run Fox News as the propaganda wing of the Republican Party. It was Roger Ailes and Lee Atwater who designed the campaign ads for George HW Bush in 1988, the basic message of which was "Vote for George HW Bush or a Black man might rape your girlfriend." So we should not be surprised to find a disgusting band of reactionaries at Fox News, where Glenn Beck was taken off the air because of the huge losses in advertising revenue and a fall in ratings. Now Mr Ailes is bracing himself in case the FBI discovers News Corp has hacked the phones of 9/11 victims and then it will be game over for Fox News. Why the hell did it take the phone-hacking of a dead girl to make us angry about Rupert Murdoch? The man controls around 40% of British media and we only cared once he crossed a clear ethical line. The BBC and the Labour Party are as much at fault here as the Conservative Party. The party-line is still that the system is sound in spite of a few excessive elements, e.g. The News of the World.

Now we can read The Sun and it's reaction to the words of Gordon Brown, if we could tear our eyes away from the delicious news that Rupert Murdoch backed out of the takeover bid to avoid the humiliation of a landslide vote against him in Parliament. It's important to remember that if the scandal had never erupted you could guarantee that the Conservatives and the Labour Party would currently be singing "Hey big spender!" to Rupert Murdoch. No doubt David Cameron and Ed Miliband would have danced around in suspenders and basques for the old dog. Whenever we see Tony Benn today we forget about the media campaign against him led by the Murdoch red-tops to label him as a "loon", going as far as actually putting words in the mouth of a prominent American psychiatrist to try and make out that Benn was mentally unstable. The press went through Benn's rubbish and he was aware that his phone was being tapped, by who we do not know specifically. Murdoch played the exact same tune with Neil Kinnock, who was well to the Right of Tony Benn.

As Conrad Black has pointed out, Rupert Murdoch has no loyalty except to his company and he has betrayed every political leader who ever helped him. The only exceptions to the only is Ronald Reagan and possibly Tony Blair. As Murdoch seeks to rid the world of dignity and respectable institutions out of a so-called "anti-elitism" he kisses the arses of the Chinese Communists. All the while News International runs on a reactionary populist platform in Britain and on a commonsensical conservatism in America. The way he sees public entertainment and civic values is similar to the depiction of both in The Simpsons: all politicians are crooks while the masses are an ignorant lumpenproletariat. The irony being that this man climbed in bed with the police and the political class, whilst railing against them and supposedly 'supporting' the working-classes against the corrupt elite. The liberal commentariat has turned the narrative around and now we find it is those noble journalists who are speaking truth to power once more.

Whether or not the Labour Party has slashed off all remnants of the impact Murdoch has had on the Party is another matter. Ed Miliband has led the way on the motion to ask the Mephistopheles to reconsider the bid, a motion not so hardline as it would seem and just a week ago Miliband was calling for Rebekah Brooks to think about quitting. I bet that one had the Murdoch empire trembling in it's wake. Now that the 'evil ginger' has finally resigned we should keep in mind it was Murdoch who gave her the boot and not Miliband. The same goes for Les Hinton, who has worked with Murdoch for 52years and used to lead the British wing of News Corp before Rebekah Brooks succeeded him. These are "professional" not "personal" moves on the part of Rupert Murdoch to insulate himself and News Corp from the scandal. The basic complaint of the government is that the red-top went too far and that there is a need for discipline and responsibility to be instilled. A radical change in the mainstream media is unimaginable, we just want The News of the World without the phone-hacking of dead children and in that sense we want the sleaze of the tabloids without the sleaze.

We find ourselves embedded in ideology when Miliband calls this a great victory for "people up and down the country", a platitude if there ever was one, we should reject this liberal reduction of the situation to the glorious struggle of the little guy and the investigative journalist against a corrupt media corporation. The adversarial self-image which the BBC holds so dearly to whilst fawning to power and all opposition is conveniently absent from the discussion. There is no alternative to cuts and we can tell because the BBC refuses to air the alternatives! Except when the alternatives can be easily dismissed as 'lunacy'. We should have no illusions, the disgusting 'aberrations' of News International are being rooted out by the system as a form of corruption and no one in their right mind would defend the phone-hacking of dead people. This will not change the fact that the political system is broken, it has been reduced to a form of management in which the 'rabble' of special individuals consent to passivity in the midst of mindless chatter from the middle-class liberals at the BBC.

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