At the end of last week, Rupert Murdoch’s News Corporation officially apologised for hacking into the phones of politicians and celebrities. In doing so the company judged that it was drawing a line under an affair that has truly exposed the shabby, rotten facade that is today’s ‘Great’ Britain.
For thirty odd years, starting with the Government led by Margaret Thatcher, the British political class have grovelled before Murdoch. He in turn has rejoiced in his perceived role as ‘political kingmaker’, throwing his media empire behind the politicians most likely to a) win and b) give him what he wanted. Observing that old saw that “only the little people pay tax”, the Murdoch empire pays as little as it possibly can to the Exchequer, while gauging as much power influence and profit as the politicians allow it. What Rupert Murdoch wants, he gets. His media empire has arguably cheapened and coarsened public debate in Britain, and presumably, with the phone hacking scandal, he thought he would get away with it.
For a long time, News Corporation blamed what it said were isolated instances of phone hacking on one journalist. The Metropolitan Police concurred, and responded to claims that phone hacking was widespread with a cursory investigation. But then there were too many police officers caught up in the scandal, on the make and on the take. For a long time too, the British political class were muted too. Why? Because they were frightened and had been warned not to rock the boat.
News Corporation has apparently set aside some £20 million to see off this little squall in the courts. The company believes it will be able to quietly buy off most of those it has bugged. But all may not go Murdoch’s way. The list of those whose phones were hacked into goes from former Deputy Prime Minister, John Prescott to actress Sienna Miller. Many of these individuals aren’t going to go quietly – particularly John Prescott – and good for him!
Imagine this scenario. The Morning Star or Aljazeera is found to have hacked into the phones of politicians. Imagine then the furore, the howls of outrage, the long line of the great and the good coming on the TV to call for the strongest possible measure to protect the country’s national security. Proprietors and Editors would be charged and tried. Make no mistake about that.
But since we now live in such a flabby, cheapened society, Murdoch’s rags weren’t interested in what John Prescott might have thought about the Iraq war for instance, but where he was to have his next dalliance.
The lazy short hand for just about every minor political scandal over the past decade has been to see everything through the prism of Watergate - ‘donor-gate’ or ‘lobby- gate’. But this scandal IS Britain’s very own Watergate, its Murdoch-gate. It shows that there is now a media corporation that is more powerful than the political class, and one that was prepared to lie its way out of a crisis of its own making.
Of course News Corporation wasn’t the only media company to be doing this – Piers Morgan, one time Editor of the Daily Mirror openly boasted of his newspaper’s hacking activities. But News Corporation truly has power without responsibility and even if out flabby political class is too frightened or craven to show any outrage, that shouldn’t stop the rest of us.