Screwed Again. Or will Murdoch meet his Waterloo?
POWERFUL media magnate Rupert Murdoch has flown into Britain as his top-circulation Sunday tabloid News of the World came out for the last time, after 168 years, and his company's bid for full control of BSkyB television, previously approved by the government, appears endangered.
That isn't just a question of capitalist 'greed'. In the United States, Murdoch's Fox News has been accused by former Democrat National Committee chair Howard Dean of being "a right-wing propaganda machine". On the other hand, David Frum, former speechwriter for George W. Bush, said, "Republicans originally thought that Fox worked for us and now we're discovering we work for Fox." The two views are not incompatible.
News International is already major shareholder in BSkyB. If they obtained full control they would like to make it more like Fox.
The scandal over 'phone hacking might not have seriously damaged the 'Screws of the World' or 'News of the Screws' loyal readership so long as it was naively assumed to only concern 'celebs' or even Royals, whose 'private' affairs spiced up a diet once dependent on saucy tales and court reports to contrast with a sombre and boring old-fashioned English Sunday.
Nor had Murdoch's union-busting and right-wing politics driven away most of the NoW's working-class readers, as we might have hoped. But the revelation that a News of World employee hacked into the 'phone of murder victim Millie Dowler, and deleted messages, possibly hindering police investigation and certainly adding to the distress of her parents, brought home the ruthlessness of the Murdoch paper's methods.
Then we heard that the 'phones of dead servicemen's families had also been hacked. This from a media empire that is forever encouraging flag-waving patriotism and whose Sun proudly championed a charity to "help our heroes". Not that the readers' generosity has been matched by News International paying any more tax than it needs to in this country.
The public revulsion brought calls for a boycott, reminiscent of the campaign against the Sun in Liverpool over its slander on the Hillsborough stadium disaster victims. This time what made the boycott call effective is that big companies nervously pulled their advertising from the News of the World pending a hacking investigation. On Thursday, James Murdoch, chairman and chief executive of News Corporation, Europe and Asia, announced that today's edition of the News of the World would be the last.
The paper's political editor David Wooding said the news was a shock to staff. "Some people are crying, very upset," he told the press outside News International's offices in Wapping, east London. "People are just standing round in the office looking dazed. They just can't believe what's happened. All I am concerned about is that 200 professional people who have done nothing wrong have lost their jobs because of what's happened five or six years ago."
But isn't that like a microcosm of the system these papers defend? When the bankers took a gamble and world capitalism took a tumble, they picked themselves up - or rather the governments did - paid themselves bigger bonuses, and we are left to pick up the tab, with cuts to services and jobs. News of the World bosses chanced their hackers' arm and were caught, so the underlings must lose their jobs. It's like some ancient religion where when things go wrong, the high priests sacrifice a few more peasants to Moloch.
Not that Murdoch and co. intend making much sacrifice. As the Guardian observed, "... News International is not going to relinquish its market-leading position in the Sunday red-top market without a fight after the NoW paid the ultimate price for being irretrievably mired in the phone hacking scandal. The company had already announced plans to introduce more seven-day integration at its four titles, the News of the World, the Sun, Times and Sunday Times."
So goodbye News of the World, make way for Sun on Sunday. With fewer staff or overheads, and so even bigger profits. It's an ill wind...
But there are other aspects to this case. On Friday, July 8, former News of the World editor Andy Coulson turned up by appointment to be arrested. None of your dawn raids, premises ransacked or computers seized, as experienced by lesser mortals. The police are investigating phone hacking and corruption. On the same day ex-NoW royal editor Clive Goodman, jailed for phone hacking in 2007, was also arrested over corruption claims. Scotland Yard are trying to identify up to five of their own officers who were paid between them a total of at least £100,000 in cash from the News of the World, the Guardian reports. Documents sent to the police by News International did not name those involved but contained pseudonyms which investigators within the Yard are trying to match with individual officers.
It is reported now that e-mails being examined by police show hacking was much more widespread than thought, and that more people in the organisation must have known about it, back in 2007. Metropolitan Police Commissioner Sir Paul Stephenson is due to see MPs this week and expected to apologise for 'institutional' failures in his force's previous investigations. Assistant commissioner, John Yates, whom Stephenson appointed to review the original inquiry,has admitted that his 2009 decision not to reopen the investigation into News International had been "a pretty crap one", which he now deeply regretted. Former senior officer Brian Paddick, whose phone was among those tapped says senior officers may have been afraid their private lives would be attacked if they tackled the News of the World.
Andy Coulson's most recent job was with Prime Minister David Cameron. But he was also a key witness in the trial of Tommy Sheridan for perjury.
'Sheridan asked him about a House of Commons committee report which stated that the NoW "turned a blind eye" and "at worst actively condoned" bugging and hacking in the newsroom. Coulson replied: "I don't accept there was a culture of phone hacking at the NoW. There was a very unfortunate, to put it mildly, case involving Clive Goodman. No one was more sorry about it than me; that's why I resigned."
Sheridan asked whether he know what the phrase "the dark arts" meant. Coulson replied: "As far as I'm concerned it means investigative work.
"I think others have described it as meaning illegal work. All I can tell you is that as far as my reporters are concerned the instructions were very clear: they were to work within the law and within the PCC code. It's in their handbooks."
Coulson was asked about allegations by a former NoW journalist, Sean Hoare, that Coulson asked him to use the "dark arts". Coulson replied: "I have absolutely no recollection of telling him that."
Coulson was shown two sets of notes by Mulcaire that recorded Sheridan's home address, mobile phone details and his voicemail pin code. Coulson stated: "I'm saying that I had absolutely no knowledge of it. I certainly didn't instruct anyone to do anything at the time or anything else which was untoward."'Tommy Sheridan is appealing his three year sentence. Even though the case against him was not dependent on Coulson's evidence, it would be poetic justice if the man Cameron ill-advisedly chose as adviser was to take the former MSP's place in a cell. But alas, neither Scottish nor British justice is that good.
Rebekah Wade had edited both the Sun and News of the World before becoming News International chief executive. She has been known as a friend of the Blairs, and the guests at her wedding to racing man Charlie Brooks included David Cameron and Gordon Brown, as well as Rupert Murdoch. Wade was at the News of the World in 2002 when the Millie Dowler hacking allegedly took place, but as we all know, whenever something bad is uncovered the boss knows nothing about it, and Wade seems to be adhering to that convention.
Ed Miliband has said that Wade/Brooks should "consider her position". But the Murdochs, James and Rupert, have insisted they have faith in the top flying red-head, prompting a wag to twitter. "Brooks or NoTW? Murdoch's ditched the wrong red-top." It was suggested that Murdoch senior was flying in this weekend to rescue Rebekah and/or save the BSkyB deal. It could be he sees something bigger is trembling dangerously on the brink, and is desperate to rescue it. In countries with authoritarian regimes, the state is assumed to control the media. In bourgeois democracies like Britain and the United States it can appear to be the other way round.
It may be we have reached a watershed, if not Rupert Murdoch's Waterloo. Not that there are not other right-wing media bosses ready, albeit not quite big enough, to step into his shoes.
Here's a battle we lost earlier
REACTIONS to the loss of jobs for News of the World employees have included people saying they'll "shed no tears", because they remember the battle of Wapping, as well as the Murdoch papers' right-wing attacks on trade unionists, asylum seekers, benefit claimants and other targets. It has been suggested that if NoW journalists believe their own stories they must be looking forward to a life of luxury on the dole.
Other have wondered wistfully why the staff don't occupy the plant and produce a workers' paper. Well, it would be nice, but when Murdoch moved to Wapping his aim was not just to end "Spanish Customs" in the print, as claimed, but to smash trade union solidarity and workers' spirit. This was a political as well as economic purpose.
In the past there were cases when journalists and print workers tempered their bosses' power. Most famous was in 1926 when workers at the Tory Daily Mail refused to print an editorial headed "For King and Country", attacking the miners and other strikers. That was how the General Strike spread to Fleet Street. The Sun had a similar experience, forced to appear with a blank space, during the 1984-5 miners' strike. Other times workers have insisted that those attacked have the tight to reply. But in 1989 when the Sun carried its attack on Liverpool supporters after Hillsborough, a front-page smear that was fed by police and a Tory MP and not run by any other paper, journalists who didn't agree with it were scared to say so. One of those present in the news room says they "just stared like rabbits caught in the headlights".
How did they end up like that? Here's the blurb for an exhibition which helps tell what had happened:
In January 1986 the Wapping dispute was unleashed with the overnight move of Rupert Murdoch's newspapers to a new non-union printworks and the sacking of 5,500 workers. Journalists who refused to go along with the move, on pain of dismissal, became known as "refuseniks".
Murdoch's vast resources and the support of the Tory government and its anti-union laws enabled the company to build and staff the Docklands works and dismiss the original workforce. A year-long strike failed to win justice for them, as the plant was staffed by strike-breaking labour recruited by the electricians' union, the EETPU, in one of the greatest acts of treachery in labour movement history.
The High Court ordered the sequestration of the funds of SOGAT, the largest union involved, following distribution workers in London refusing to handle Murdoch's papers. Other unions were fined for contempt or ordered by the courts to refrain from solidarity action.
Police attacks on demonstrations and picketing resulted in more than 1,300 arrests and hundreds of injuries to strikers and supporters. Complaints against the police for brutality and unwarranted arrests led to investigations and inquiries.
The News International dispute occurred at a time of unrelenting attacks on jobs, union rights and communities in many parts of the UK including the newspaper industry. But as well as a trauma for the labour movement, Wapping was a crucial factor in Murdoch's accumulation of concentrated press and media ownership across the globe.
This exhibition commemorates the determined resistance of the sacked printworkers and the refuseniks. Just as importantly, it will relate the experiences of the time to the politics and circumstances of today.
The exhibition, News International Wapping -25 years on, moves to TUC Congress House, Great Russell Street , London WC1B 3LS , from July 25 to August 12, and will be open to visitors from 10 am to 6pm, Monday to Friday.