NONE of us were sorry to see the News of the World go under last week. The arrest of Rebekah Brooks, News International’s chief executive, for questioning in connection with corruption issues after a number of Rupert Murdoch’s chief henchmen jumped ship, will have brought wry smiles to veteran Fleet Street printers who fought the Murdoch empire to preserve free trade unions during the Sun dispute in the 1980s.
With a bit of luck the resignation of two high-ranking chiefs in the Metropolitan Police and the mysterious death of a former News of the World journalist who had spilt the beans on the phone-hacking scandal will end the sinister domination of the British media by this oligarch once and for all.
For over three decades politicians across the mainstream bourgeois consensus grovelled at the feet of Rupert Murdoch and his minions. Tory and Labour governments alike sanctioned the monopolisation of information by News International, which targeted working people with its relentless stream of racist and imperialist propaganda laced with vicious celebrity gossip that we now learn was obtained through phone hacking and pay-offs to the police on an industrial scale.
News International may have thought that it could fight off the legal challenges from high-profile victims like Hugh Grant and Max Mosley but it was on a certain loser once the depth of its corrupt involvement with the forces of law and order was exposed to wider public scrutiny.
The Establishment has now closed ranks to condemn the excesses of the Murdoch-owned media and Cameron, Miliband and Clegg are leading the pack in condemnation and demands for more regulation.
The Labour leader, Ed Miliband, was right to lead the attack and question the link between the Prime Minister and his former aide, who had been a senior member of Murdoch’s entourage. It is also clear that by any standards, even those of the bourgeoisie themselves, that News International is neither fit nor proper to own any newspapers or TV stations in Britain.
But there’s a hidden agenda behind the furore that has forced Parliament to summon Murdoch and his cronies to the Select Committee this week and that is to re-impose the media censorship we had to put up with until the 1970s under the Lord Chamberlain’s Office and the odious D-notice regime.
While there’s clearly a need to reform the toothless Press Complaints Commission, which does nothing to protect those who cannot afford to go to court, demands for more “regulation” can only stifle the freedom of the media. There is, in fact, no need for it. The issue is not whether what is reported was true but how the information was obtained in the first place.
Phone-hacking, mail interception and bribing the police are against the law and some journalists have already been convicted. More will undoubtedly follow.
There’s certainly a case for repealing Britain’s draconian libel laws that impose self-censorship on much of the media and can only be used by those rich enough to pay the immense legal fees court actions incur. The media must be free to comment on what it likes and report what it believes to be true. But that can’t continue to be monopolised exclusively by the representatives of the big bourgeoisie.
If nothing else the News International scandal shows the need for the unions to pool their resources to provide a voice for the labour movement to counter the barrage of propaganda rammed down our throats every day in the bourgeois media.
Our unions spend millions on bland house magazines that are rarely read even by their own members. The Labour Party, which dumped its own weekly in 1988, will spend millions at election time and rely on the half-hearted support of the Mirror Group rather than help fund an independent trade union and co-operative journal like the old Daily Herald, which they sustained for over 50 years.
But with new technology it can be done and it needs to be done because there’s plenty more like Murdoch ready to take his place.
New Worker editorial