By the time I got home today, the News of the World was dead. At first, I didn’t know quite how to feel.
Obviously, the campaign directed against them has been successful. It has become a dirty brand – because there is a certain level which the public will not take. It was their own ethics that did for them – tabloids profess to be on the side of victims and their families, so when they attack these groups, their readership will view them with the same unforgivingness that they say we should react to crime, death and abuse with.
But this development is not a positive.
First, before anyone cracks open the champagne, remember that many decent journalists – yes, some do work for the News of the Screws – and those in support roles will be without a job come Sunday. Yes, they will be invited to apply for other jobs at News International (my God, what an honour to work there!) but are we to believe that there are 300 vacancies at the Sun, the Times and the Sunday Times? Yes, the Sun will no doubt become a 7-day operation, but such allows for multiple efficiencies to be made – ie. job losses and more profit for Murdoch. An expedient move.
The job losses for News of the World staffers reinforces the myth which ThMurdoch and his cronies are trying to propagate. The myth that this is a problem with individuals, not an institutional problem. The myth that this is about rogue practices, not the corrupt power relationships between the News International chiefs and the Tories, as Tom Watson articulated so brilliantly at the GMB conference.
Second, it is a strategy move from Murdoch and Co. They think that they can close the door on the saga by closing the title which has been given a bad name. They can argue that it’s not a News International fiasco but a News of the World one, only affecting this one strand of the organization. As we move closer to the decision on Murdoch’s planned takeover of Sky, it is crucial for News International to demonstrate both that the scandal is in the past and that their television broadcast dealings are irrelevant.
Ed Miliband made the initial mistake on Tuesday of arguing that the Sky takeover was a ‘separate issue’ to phone hacking. He back-tracked (to unnecessary calls of ‘u-turn’) at PMQs yesterday, rightly identifying the wrongs of a shady Jeremy Hunt-Rupert Murdoch deal at a time when News International is in such disrepute.
Closing the News 0f the World is an attempt to contain the damage in the past and to just the one newspaper title.
Third, as John Prescott and Ed Miliband argued on the Six O’ Clock News on the BBC today, what we need is not inanimate newspapers being pulled, but justice for those at the top. Miliband has called for Rebekah Brooks, chief executive of News International in the UK, to ‘consider her position’. The judicial and moral pursuit of those who evidently took the decisions which led to this case of institutional wrongdoing is the only justice.
So what next? I have just a few suggestions.
One, charities should refuse free advertisements and News of the World revenue from this Sunday’s issue. And following the success of the public campaign to get companies to withdraw their advertisements, this cause should be taken up by Twitter and anyone who has a conscience. News International cannot get away with this PR stunt, which gives the illusion of self-justice.
Two, the pressure on other Murdoch titles must heat up. Most importantly, the Sun. Here is a real opportunity to stand in the way of News International’s sway over public opinion.
Three, News of the World journalists and the NUJ must stand up against this stunt from the top. Quite how is for them to decide. They’re not to blame – the executives are, as in the case of institutional issues in general. It has become evident that previous claims that the Murdochs and Brooks did not know about phone hacking are untrue.
Most importantly, public pressure must continue in every possible way. The worst outcome would be that News International were able to get their sleazy Sky deal through once the closure of the News of the World had closed the scandal. It must not.