‘A knife in the back of the Murdoch Empire and a calamitous day for the free press, the pride and joy of British liberal democracy.’ No, I can’t say I agree with that either.
As this second chapter in the News of the World saga unfolds before our eyes, it has become clear that there will be three big losers. And no, those three will not include Rupert Murdoch, his son James or, thank goodness, our print media.
We say goodbye to the News of the World, a News International red-top that has been in operation for 168 years. It’s Editor, Colin Myles, said on Wednesday:
“We are the paper that campaigned to enshrine the Military Covenant in law, fought for ten years to establish Sarah’s Law into legislation, the paper of Children’s Champions, the paper that has fought tirelessly against bullying and so much more.”
That’s great, Colin. But the NOTW is also the publication that has pushed investigative journalism to the edge of the abyss and, if it wasn’t for Murdoch’s astute decision to scrap the Sunday paper, almost so far into the pit of immorality that the long term future of proper and effective media scrutiny would have been brought into severe doubt.
But, lets be clear. The Murdoch family will not be hit in the long term as a result of this mess. Nor, really, will News Corporation which they own (other than the increasing possibility that its BSkyB takeover bid will now be turned down). The NOTW was an economically failing paper and like other British publications, will have folded within the next decade with or without the phone-hacking saga.
Rebekah Brooks, News International’s incumbent Chief Executive and the News of the World Editor when the phone hacking scandal was originally exposed in 2004, is hanging onto her job by her fingernails. A family friend of the Prime Minister, even he thinks she should resign. In fact, it seems only Rupert, James and Brooks herself thinks that she shouldn’t.
The truth is that the reputation of Ross Kemp’s ex-wife has been permanently damaged. It will not be long before she walks or is forced out, amidst uproar at News International’s headquarters, where staff are outraged at being laid off, whilst the individual who they deem to be at the centre of the controversy remains in her post.
The second big loser is Andy Coulson, the former Editor of the News of the World and Ex-Downing Street Spin Doctor. Coulson is a slick operator, an exceptional investigative journalist and is on a par with Alistair Campbell when it comes to directing the public image of a PM and a Government. Both of them marmite characters, whatever your political persuasion, one must admire both of these enviable talents.
Coulson’s arrest this morning will, however, end his career at the centre of the British political and media community and will send shockwaves throughout the corridors of Whitehall and Number 10.
It has been alleged that, beyond any reasonable doubt, Coulson did indeed have knowledge or even a part to play in the phone hacking of high profile figures and disturbingly, even murder victims such as Milly Dowler and Jessica Chapman.
Thirdly, the big one. The PM himself. Cameron will be well aware that every Prime Minister has a defining moment and this, unfortunately, may well be his. Major had Black Wednesday, Blair the stigma of the Iraq War. Before, they were fresh, energising reformers. After; reactionary, weak and clinging to power.
Those at Downing Street will be fully aware of how quickly the tide can turn against their man, especially considering the public relations weakness already demonstrated over the NHS, academies and tuition fees
in recent weeks and months. With an ineffective opposition, led by Labour’s equivalent to Iain Duncan-Smith with regard to leadership qualities, the Conservative Party are not threatened electorally by this debacle, especially considering impending boundary changes and a strengthening economy.
The future of Cameron himself, however, is a whole different kettle of fish. His association with Brooks, his judgement over the appointment of Coulson and the fact that in the wings is a man of great ambition, of great public admiration and crucially a man with the greatest electoral mandate of any British politician at present; Boris Johnson.
It looks as if Boris will go on to defeat Ken Livingstone at next year’s London Mayoral election for a second successive time. In the midst of spending cuts, he has spoken out against his own government and refused to speak out against the Murdochs. With Cameron promising his inner circle that he will step down midway through a second term to pursue other interests, I am not alone in sensing the former host of ‘Have I Got News For You’ may be positioning himself for a leadership challenge.
On the matter of the scandal itself, it promises to be a very intriguing few days and weeks as more and more information is released. Behind the scenes, many old grudges and grievances are being played out between the police and those in politics and the media. The Guardian’s tetchy relationship with News Corporation is summed up brilliantly here by one of Westminster’s key commentators, but beneath this war of minds, we may just have seen the much overdue catalyst for the reform of our failing printing press, finally bringing it into the 21st Century.
The landscape of the British print media has been changed forever.