Hacking Hacks and a Dying Empire

There are signs that old media is dying, new media being the next battleground – but recent scandals have only accelerated this collapse.

Hacking Hacks and a Dying Empire
"I believe perfect objectivity is an unrealistic goal. Fairness, however, is not." - Michael Pollan.

My documentary Escape from Doncatraz, focusing on the propaganda around immigration in Britain, was unashamedly biased. When anyone ever asked me if I was being objective, I’d give the honest reply, “Absolutely not – I’m on the side of the people, not profit.”

In an information battle where monolithic multinationals are monopolizing the media, it’s an injustice for someone like myself – a social entrepreneur – to offer more airtime to the views prevalent and perpetuated in the press that these corporations control. Call me corny or sentimental, but I feel it’s essentially my duty to turn attention to the interests of the citizenship instead – the views that are rarely aired. I don’t report to shareholders, and I don’t attempt to appease media barons. I simply do what I do to throw bricks in this battle against the tanks of corporate media crushing community spirit in their path; dividing and conquering.

I was a carpet-crawling eighteen month old baby back when Rupert Murdoch cranked up his quest to conquer corporate media in Britain, as his Sun newspaper overtook the Daily Mirror as the number one tabloid in the country in 1978, the Australian businessman having already bought the News of the World to be its Sunday sister ten years earlier. As Labour Prime Minister James Callaghan froze pay for workers while millionaires lived high on the hog and drank at the troughs of the toffs, unions butted heads with him and despite this, The Sun ridiculed Callaghan’s calmness with the headline “Crisis? What Crisis?”

As workers flexed their muscles, The Sun spun – blaming the “Winter of Discontent” on “socialist” Labour and its union ties, and led the call for conservatism. The paper’s readership bought it enough to put into power Margaret Thatcher’s Conservatives, who ran the successful Saatchi & Saatchi propaganda posters showing impossibly long welfare lines with the slogan “Labour Isn’t Working.” Fear works – and so does war, with Thatcher’s shaky position at the top only stabilised when she masterfully manipulated the Falklands armed conflict, the British public whipped into patriotic blindness by The Sun, allowing her to keep her grip on power.

Anti-Poll Tax riot

Of course, Thatcher rewarded Murdoch’s loyalty to her pro-privatisation, anti-union stance by deregulating the media for him to swallow up. In return, he kept pumping the propaganda. With Labour’s spine gone, working class people continued to stay at home during elections, and the Tories won again under Thatcher. It was only when she followed up her attack on workers’ rights while also deregulating the city banks by introducing the Poll Tax, that ordinary people took matters into their own hands and occupied Trafalgar Square, even sending the police running. Lame Labour leader Neil Kinnock even enjoyed renewed support, and with Thatcher failing to recover from the Poll Tax debacle, making way for the bland, grey John Major, it looked like the Tories were going to lose in 1992. Murdoch summoned his media editors to marginalise Labour like never before, with The Sun claiming that if by some electoral discrepancy Labour won, then the country would collapse. The Tories clung to power by the skin of their teeth, and the paper’s front page headline declared “It was The Sun Wot Won It.”

Tony Blair, of course, became Labour leader by the time of the 1997 election as the party’s votes continued to increase – but Blair’s brand of “New Labour” and dumping of its union-friendly policies were used to court favour with Murdoch himself, who instructed his press to blatantly back Blair, who won. With the Tories demolished, Blair had incredible power for policy-making in Downing Street, and as these moves made the party increasingly right-wing, so their votes decreased – in fact, loser Kinnock in 1992 enjoyed more votes than Blair did while winning re-election in both 2001 and 2005.

Academics always remind me there’s no empirical evidence to actually demonstrate that the media of Murdoch or any other mogul has much effect on voting trends, and that’s true. Some argue that Murdoch merely likes to back a winner, which – despite Neil Kinnock in 1992 and David Cameron in 2010 looking sure to win majorities but failing to do so – may also have some truth to it. What history does suggest though, regardless of exactly how effective it is, is that media propaganda has been seen to have influence all the way back to fascist newspaper The Daily Mail publishing the fake Zinoviev letter in 1924 and frightening the British public away from a Labour Party they’d been misled into believing was full of radical revolutionaries. The press doesn’t guarantee an election result, but it surely influences it. That’s why all these politicians have courted Murdoch in recent years. All except one.

As David Cameron led the Conservatives into a coalition government with the sell-out Liberal Democrats, he hired Murdoch’s former News of the World editor Andy Coulson as his head of propaganda. Meanwhile, Ed Miliband became Labour leader after Gordon Brown’s Nixonesque bungling and blame for a disaster from the banks he failed to regulate but subsequently handled well economically – and unlike Brown, Miliband met with Murdoch but refused to woo him. Almost a year ago, he stated, “I don’t think the Sun had a particularly good election. Twenty-three front pages supporting the Tories and the Tories got 36 per cent of the vote. Let’s see where they are, at the next election.”

Since then, of course, Andy Coulson has been discredited as director of communications for the Conservatives and resigned, due to his implication in the News of the World phone hacking scandal. I said at the time that it was likely reflective of the whole Murdoch media climate; press rooms pungent with the stench of corruption where all that mattered was trivial celebrity gossip and muckraking as a smokescreen for the damage done to society by neoliberal politicians seeking to make their elite pals even richer. Murdoch’s media empire – News Corporation – has been propagandising for these people for years, through Fox News in the United States as well as the British press umbrella company News International led by the hideous Rebekah Brooks; their lack of values or morals or conscience have permitted them to publish “news” that is cynical, divisive, and dangerous in its support for government policies that cost thousands of lives through health care reforms, removal of welfare provision, public sector cuts, and foreign policy – all designed to remove taxes and safety nets while the elite gain from a crisis they themselves caused when they ought to be made to pay back. After already hacking into phones of celebrities, the dirt writers are even thought to have targeted families of war and terror victims.

In any other role, people acting with these motives, on this moral compass, would be in a cell somewhere. The police dragged their feet over the arrests of Coulson and Brooks, and chief Paul Stephenson resigned when it was revealed he’d been working with former News of the World executive Neil Wallis, a massive conflict of interest in the police phone-hacking investigation. It was beginning to appear that the whole house of cards – built throughout the politicians, the press, and the police – was starting to collapse.

Incredibly, the News of the World itself has been closed down, yet some have complained of the jobs lost on the paper as a result. News International – a press cesspool of phone-hacking hacks who enjoy one of the most class exclusive professions in the country – will offer many other opportunities for these writers who type up sexist, racist, homophobic stories and support policies that destroy not hundreds but thousands of lives in non-exclusive walks of life.

Murdoch has been rumoured to be considering selling much of News International, which he has dismissed as “rubbish.” But it wouldn’t be a shock, nor would it be nonsensical from a business standpoint. Old media is dying. If the war of social justice has a front line of information struggles, then it’s new media that will provide the battleground in the future. Murdoch and people like him will want to stop the power of social media for social justice.

Ed Miliband, meanwhile, has seemingly committed political suicide – he has taken on the propaganda gods themselves at risk of revenge at a later date. Can he bring Labour back into power? If he does so, then it will finally prove that there may indeed be no influential link between the media and politics. Some believe that the ConDem coalition turned and joined him not just to save face when the people were outraged, but because many politicians are sick and tired of having to go groveling to Murdoch. Miliband may even have called the media baron’s bluff. When he said “I think the Murdoch press has less influence than it used to,” he might have made a self-fulfilling prophecy – because his very public ethical assault on Murdoch means his press look weak and pathetic if they try to attack Miliband excessively pre-election. I have been mocked for previously comparing Ed Miliband to Barack Obama in the past, but this truly could make him a Teflon man.

In the last ever edition of the News of the World one week ago, the editor chose to use a George Orwell quote in those very pages: “It is Sunday afternoon, preferably before the war. The wife is already asleep in the armchair, and the children have been sent out for a nice long walk. You put your feet up on the sofa, settle your spectacles on your nose and open the News of the World.” Was Orwell a Murdoch fan? Of course not. The quote was from 1946, long before Murdoch soiled it with his greedy hands. How fitting that even in its last moments, the News of the World was still so economical with the truth.

"Early in life I had noticed that no event is ever correctly reported in a newspaper." - George Orwell.