The Spirit of Journalism: Requiem for News of the World
By Celluloid Liberation Front.
‘Representation is a denial of participation’ (Muammar Muhammad al-Gaddafi in The Green Book)
‘They can sneer all they like, I’ll keep the 15000 extra copies’ (Keith Rupert Murdoch)
Slap the Monster on Page One gave the title to Marco Bellocchio’s film about media manipulation of social antagonism. Nowadays, though, the same slogan seems to incarnate the ethical conduct policy of Anglo-Saxon journalism at large.
We duly acknowledge Murdoch’s infotainment empire the leading role in this noble and democratic practice but often tend to underestimate its contagious nature. Hysterical demonization is today a most pervasive attitude that reaches well beyond the pages of the daily press. The latest ‘scandal’ – never a word was so far removed from the actual reaction of ordinary people to such events – bears witness to a perverted journalistic logic that takes for granted the generous gullibility of readers.
As often in these cases fortuitous coincidences accompany the ‘scandal’, the most curious this time being News Corp’s $14bn bid to buy the remaining 61 per cent of pay-TV operator BSkyB that Murdoch’s company does not already own.
On the eve of such a hegemonic manoeuvre the liberal press, spearheaded by the Guardian and its pathetic army of moral and hypocritical inquisitors, launched the counteroffensive appealing to a bogus sense of indignation and transparency.
Priding itself of having been the first newspaper to unveil the evil misdoings of some bad apples at News of the World, the Guardian newspaper owes to Murdoch’s school of thought more than it would ever be ready to admit.
In fact, if the free press is all about democracy and freedom of speech then News Corp is the contemporary agora, since the demos flock in overwhelming majority to its tribunes, where sexual depravity, meaningless violence and celebrities merrily cohabit under The Sun.
The lurid diet of tabloids (a quintessentially Anglo-Saxon tradition just like democracy…) has never constituted an ethical challenge for the so-called quality newspapers but always a strictly economic one given the disproportionate divide between the respective readerships. Considering their culinary habits perhaps it is no wonder that civilized Anglophone readers can stomach pictures of heinous crimes right next to ones depicting voluptuous topless ladies.
It is precisely this morbid need for gratuitous violence, prurient details and assorted perversions that should shock the reader way before the debatable means through which this cultural carnage is assembled (phone hacking, bribes and so forth).
The social and moral degradation that presupposes this vicious hunt for perverted violence and instant justification is never questioned. Even worse, it is benevolently considered part of the national folklore. Indeed, when it comes to monstrosities that sell, there is no limit to what can and will be published by everyone. If the plan of Josef Fritzl’s house is a matter of sick interest, no problem, there it is slapped on page one… and the Guardian was no exception.
To contain the moral void that exudes from all this ink, news are usually accompanied by the public lynching of those responsible for such horrors, for evil always comes from the outside, it never belongs to our social texture. Whether it is the decaffeinated prejudices of the liberal press or the loud and crass racism of the tabloids, evil has a face and it is never familiar, it very rarely carries a European or American passport and when it does it is not representative of the status quo.
There is even those who, like Margaret Drabble of The Independent, had the guts to blame Murdoch for the despicable state of the press claiming: ‘Murdoch’s press has infected our public discourse. Rival newspapers have been forced to compete for lurid headlines, for fake scandals, for manufactured celebrity gossip, to which the vindication of public interest could never apply. Bad journalism drives out good.’
Why is it then that good journalism does not drive out bad?
To blame Murdoch’s empire for the general idiocy of the press and the blood-chilling tactics adopted by his employees is not only naïve but frankly ridiculous. Good old Rupert is a businessman and like every good businessman he satisfies a market demand, no more no less. He is particularly good at it, enjoys the unbridled freedoms of neo-liberalism plus a total lack of awareness and dissent from the public. His readership is largely constituted by working class men and women. If he is a monster, he is a disturbing mixture between Jesus Christ, Joseph Stalin and Milton Friedman. News of the World, despite what indignant liberals would say, really was part of the English genetic code, from Winston Churchill to William Hague its columnists were, so to speak, a little bit more than ordinary hacks…
The popular success of Murdoch’s tabloids is also funded on a paradoxical dose of straightforwardness that the rhetorical constructions of the liberal press cannot afford.
On Sunday the 1st of October 1843, its first editorial read, rather honestly:
‘It [NotW] will aim alone at doing good service to old England, by maintaining her glory and security, the prosperity of all classes of the people.’
The last editorial as much honestly read:
‘We do not need government legislation. That would be a disaster for our democracy and for a free Press.’
Of all the deplorable things NotW can be accused of, hypocrisy is not on the list.
Besides attending cheerful and free of charge parties aboard Murdoch’s yacht the Rosehearty, British Prime Minister David Cameron even hired NotW ex-editor Andy Coulson as the Tory’s director of communication. The police are now holding the latter while Cameron expresses his support for two enquires (one of them even with a judge!) into the shady affair.
Those who accuse Murdoch of pursuing a rightwing agenda may have forgotten that 18th day of March 1997 when The Sun’s front page blessed New Labour’s leader Tony Blair and endorsed his nomination for supreme commander of Cool Britannia.
That front page marked what at first seemed to be the most uncanny political switch of the century and today appears to be the masterstroke of a true rightwing genius.
In the meantime Mr. Murdoch, despite his reviled conservative fame, is playing no cither while London is burning and hired a Vietnamese immigrant, Viet D. Dinh, to assist him in this delicate phase. Foreigners might be unjustly depicted in Murdoch’s newspapers but are no strangers to his family when it comes to business. In fact Kingdom Holding Company, a firm controlled by Prince Alwaleed bin Talal al-Saud from Saudi Arabia’s ruling dynasty, is the second biggest shareholder in News Corp, behind Murdoch’s family (source: Al Jazeera).
Saudi Arabia accidentally enough never makes it to the list of evil nations constituting a threat to mankind. Its female population apparently does not undergo the tormenting vexations that its Iranian counterpart has to endure. One wonders why.
Strangely enough the liberal press does not seem to notice such coincidences and pursue its manhunt in order to restore a lawful and morally appropriate state of thing, while silent we read.
To be fair Margaret Drabble in her magnificent article for The Independent did notice something wrong and wrote: ‘I don’t really like to say this, for fear of being accused of racism, but Rupert Murdoch isn’t even British. I don’t see why the British press and media should be dominated by one family company, just as I’ve always thought it unwise for us to sell off so many of our utilities to foreigners.’ Is comment needed to such words? Perhaps God only knows, and saves. Unless he is a foreigner too.
As these lines are being written, due to what the Guardian shamelessly keeps calling political pressure, Murdoch withdrew his bid to buy BSkyB, Rebekah Brooks first resigned, then was arrested and shortly after released on bail, even the chief of Scotland Yard resigned while excited liberal commentators wonder at what will be next for News Corp.
Justice once again will prevail while his majesty Das Kapital confirms its democratic role as moral regulator always able and willing to distinguish between what is ethically acceptable and what is not.
This article is protected at the request of the author under the Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial 3.0 United States licence. It is available in Romanian translation here.
Celluloid Liberation Front is a multi-use(r) name, an ‘open reputation’ informally adopted and shared by a desiring multitude of insurgent cinephiles, transmedial terrorists, aesthetic dynamyters and random deviants.