Angela suggests that the cliche ‘we need a healthy debate’ should go the way of the News of the World
‘What we need is a proper debate about the media.’ ‘We need a debate about all these issues.’ Boy, am I sick of hearing and reading that. The get-out clause of politicians seems to have leaked into the discourse of the dissenters and complainers, yet they should avoid this phrase like the plague.
The latest instance is in the surprisingly strong judgment of the Murdochs by the House of Commons Select Committee which heard their evidence on phone hacking and associated sins last summer. The ‘not a fit person to run a media company’ was adopted, apparently, at the urging of Tom Watson MP. Watson, a doughty campaigner who has his own history of pain with News International, has used stronger language for the Austral-American media moguls in the past, and not always well-advisedly. Watson calls News Corp ‘the Mafia’
However, the ‘not fit’ quote was not embraced with enthusiasm by half the committee, five out of 11. Surprisingly or not, depending on your degree of cynicism, the split went along party lines. The five dissenters are Tories, featuring the lovely novelist Louise Mensch. ‘We all felt that was wildly outside the scope of the select committee and was an improper attempt to influence Ofcom,’ Ms Mensch was quoted in the noticeably benign story about the report in Murdoch’s flagship paper in his homeland, The Australian. News Ltd story on the report (Australian)
But still. Today, it is as if someone has pointed up into the sky at night, at the white circular luminous object hanging there, and said “The moon!” The love (or hatred) that dare not speak its name has indeed been named. ‘Not a proper person’ – as I observed on Twitter, the wording has been used in the past about moguls Maxwell and Al-Fayed. Were you under the impression that Rupert Murdoch and co were running all those news organisations out of a desire to make the world a better place? Surely, the old guy loves newspapers, and I cannot fault him for that. I love newspapers, even as I prepare to wave newsprint goodbye from the stage of history. But balanced with love of the print, the sound of the presses – even the lining of the canary’s cage the next day – newspapers, as the press, have to play a central and responsible role in informing citizens about the world around them. This is the role of the media in democracies.
Murdoch senior’s well-judged performance at the Leveson inquiry – far better than the befuddled apologist of the cream-pie attack last summer – showed the flinty charm that has helped him forge a massive business empire. It also revealed a little more of the ruthlessness with which News Corp can treat those who stray from the party line..
But it didn’t indicate someone who was prepared to accept a responsible role in democratic societies – despite the risibly guileless contentions about his insouciance in the face of government changes, and his sunny lack of interest in how power shifts affect the commercial interests of his newspapers.
So…let’s not have a debate that goes on and on and all the windbags wave their bellows around about the media. Let’s get the Leveson report and insist that the Cameron government do something about limiting the power of media owners.
What? Well, maybe we can have a debate about that (only kidding).
Thanks to the Guardian, and other generous sharers, here’s the link to the full report of the Committee: