Putting the brakes on BSKYB

69,201. That’s the number of messages David Cameron and Jeremy Hunt have received from the British public, opposing the government’s expected ‘green lighting’ of Rupert Murdoch’s BSKYB acquisition.
Consultation was going to end on Friday July 8th, with the decision to follow and things looking good. But the deal looks a little further from approval now. After all, if one of the world’s most powerful media moguls moves to take complete control of the UK’s biggest subscription TV provider, thus creating the largest news empire this country has ever seen, we all need to be confident that transparency and ethics won’t be compromised.
Which is no longer a certainty amongst News International’s various arms. Murdoch’s monolithic organisation accounts for much of what we read on a daily basis, and while there’s no accounting for taste titles like The Sun and News of the World remain amongst the best selling papers in Britain. Until this week.
Mitsubishi, Renault, Halifax, The Co-Operative, Aldi, Virgin Holidays… the list of advertisers that have decided to pull out of the second red top mentioned in the previous paragraph could no doubt go on for a few more lines. But there’s not much point, because as of Monday it will cease to exist.
Following revelations that staff on the tabloid may very well have hacked the phones of those who had lost loved ones in the July 7th London bombings, alongside murder victims like Milly Dowler, Holly Wells, and Jessica Chapman, many large corporations chose not to be associated with the newspaper, and as the fire spread further the man in the driving seat pulled the plug.
This scandal follows on from a somewhat sketchy police investigation into the alleged call tapping of celebrities and politicians. According to one of Scotland’s biggest publications, The Daily Record, Labour MP Chris Bryant said the inquiry had “a very dirty smell” around it. And we may yet find the rot causing this stench, as details are also emerging of situations wherein journalists working for News of the World had paid, wined and dined senior police officials in return for information.
Of course there’s nothing wrong with the press and lawmen communicating, that has happened since the beginning of both professions. But the Editors Code of Practice frowns on funding informants, especially those with access to confidential and sensitive files. More so, the police cannot accept money under the 1906 Corruption Act.
So what happens now is anyone’s guess. Andy Coulson, former editor at News Of The World and, until recently, David Cameron’s director of communications is being arrested, while the Sun On Sunday steps into the end of week print void. This is the darkest few days in the modern history of British journalism, certainly in terms of public trust. The irony of course being that without rival media outlets nobody would be any wiser to said scandal. Still, knit picking to one side those who are paid to write the news must now be feeling a whole lot more sheepish when asked “so what do you do for a living”.
And, as for the BSKYB takeover, surely no deal can be approved while this many huge question marks hang over the integrity of these companies, and the culture that may be endemic in the workplaces Murdoch controls. Tabloid news is all about breaking stories, not necessarily researching them. We’ve seen in the past (not least during the Wapping dispute) that Murdoch likes to get value for money, regardless of moral costs, so it’s not stretching the imagination too much to start asking questions about the amount of pressure put on staff to sell pages with exclusive scandals. And, contrary to popular belief, such situations do not fall on a reporter’s lap every day.
All of which begs the question, do you want a man controlling a good chunk of the news, who could be actively allowing journalistic practices that abuse, bend, and stretch the legal and moral framework required for neutrality? We have an internationally respected media in Britain, but looking at this evidence, and the nightmarish tales from other countries, it immediately becomes clear this doesn’t result from our own excellence so much as the shortcomings inherent abroad. With that in mind then, it’s clear we can’t really afford to lower the tone further.