By Eric Reguly, Globe and Mail, July 13, 2011
In Britain, the political backlash against News Corp. and the Murdochs, a family that had been courted by Britain’s political and business elites for decades, has been extraordinarily vicious (Mr. Cameron called it “a firestorm”). While the phone-hacking scandal has been burbling away for years, it picked up momentum in recent months, thanks to a steady stream of nasty revelations reported by The Guardian, and burst wide open early last week.
Mr. Cameron said he was “absolutely disgusted” by the scandal and, on Friday, launched two independent inquiries, the first to determine the true extent of the hacking scandal, the other into press regulation. Meanwhile, the police are investigating possible police corruption in connection to the payments from reporters.
When Rupert and James Murdoch euthanized the News of the World, their biggest newspaper, with a circulation of 2.7 million, they may have thought the swift and brutal act was enough to buy them some political sympathy and preserve their attempt to buy the 61 per cent of BSkyB that they did not already own. They were dead wrong.
Former prime minister Gordon Brown went ballistic when reports surfaced that his phone may have been hacked to discover medical information about his son. On Wednesday, in Parliament, Mr. Brown accused News International of “law breaking on an industrial scale” and said the News of the World “had descended from the gutter into the sewers.” Ruling and Opposition politicians joined the fray, demanding that News Corp. kill its attempted takeover of BSkyB while the criminal inquiries were under way.
It did. The Murdochs’ power stranglehold over the British media market has been broken.
Allegations of phone hacking into the private messages of former Prime Ministers (Brown) and of murder victims, and potentially of 9-11 victims in New York, by reporters for the Murdoch media empire, plus televised interviews of reporters admitting they simply "made up" stories about public figures for insertion into Murdoch-owned papers is criminal, and could conceivably land some people in jail. Several have already been arrested as the story continues to be investigated both in Britain and in the U.S.
However, there are two aspects to the story that have received little, if any, mention.
First, the public appetite for smut, no matter the source, and no matter the veracity of the content.
These Murdoch papers, led by the News of the World, are heavily subscribed because of their "below-the-belt" gossip content. There are literally millions of people whose daily diet of information has included feeding at the trough of info-slime that has poured though the ink onto the pages of tabloids like News of the World.
The public appetite for this stuff is limitless, and we are all tainted by the gluttony of those whose lives and whose perceptions of the rest of the people of the world are scum-bags, whose stories are papering over both that insatiable appetite and Murdoch's (and others') insatiable appetite for greed and profit that counts on the readers spending their cash on this garbage. So let's not, as the "public," be so outraged at the Murdoch's and their ilk who profit from our collective scurrilous and mean-spirited appetite for the worst kind of private "peeping" into the lives of those perhaps victims, perhaps ruling class (including the royals according to some reports). Prime Minister David Cameron, only recently a "friend" of the now resigned former editor of the News of the World, is only the leader of the pack of the public who formerly fed at Murdoch's trough of parties for favours in order to get the kind of ubiquitous coverage that all political aspirants need for their power-hungry motives to get elected.
Second, it is even more disconcerting that humanity, including individual human lives, and especially the private and often less-than-salutary details of those lives that is considered "fair game" in a world drunk on technological capability to acess and to publish anything, so long as it sells and so long as it generates profit for owners, executives and investors.
We have become the devourers of our own "shit" in the metaphoric sense. And many of us thought only "animals" ate the feces as part of their diet. And, regardless of the laws we pass, and the lectures to which we are subjected, often by those who stirred the pots in the Murdoch kitchens where this vomit was cooked, and the court cases that will drag this story out into the far distant headlines and digital reports, we will continue to be characterized, all of us, by this tragic reminder of the Swiftian dung so characteristic of his cast in Gulliver's Travels.
It is our darkest side that the Murdoch appetites of ambition (reporters and editors), and the appetites of greed (Murdoch and his investors) and the appetites for power (Cameron and the political class) and the appetites for gossip (the readers who shelled out cash daily for this kind of story and we all have the smell and the colour (brown) and the historic stench of our own worst demons "all over" this story.
And we all need to take a look at what we are doing to our society, to our weakest humans whether they are the starving and the dying on long walks in drought-ridden Africa, or the people in our political "board rooms" and ask ourselves if this is the kind of society we want to leave to our grandchildren.
I, for one, do not. And I can only hope there are enough others who share that view, so that not only through new legislation but more importantly through new and revised attitudes, we re-consider how we value human life, not merely whether it was conceived "inside marriage" but how we value it in and through the lives of all pilgrims on the planet.
And digging for this kind of smut, in order to satisfy profit and thirst for gossip, true or not, is not "our best"...we can do better!