Coverage of the hacking scandal misses the point entirely. Anyone who has watched the news has seen the extraordinary lengths photographers, paparazzi and journalists will go to in order to get a story. It may be revolting, disgusting and deplorable, but phone hacking does not shock me. Or, at least, it does not surprise me.
What we should worry about is Rupert Murdoch and his attempt to take over BskyB. This would have Murdoch not only in control of three of Britain’s most widely read national newspapers, but also owner of the largest provider of broadband services in the country, giving Murdoch a monopoly over media output.
This week Jeremy Hunt, the culture secretary (is anyone else just dying for James Naughtie to make another slip-up?), announced that Murdoch’s bid will be referred to the competition regulators. This may seem like a victory for those of us who feel sceptically about the plan, but the real issue we must address is why it has taken an international scandal to bring this decision about.
The News Of World has been the sole precipitator of most mainstream criticism of the bid. Ed Miliband has jumped on the hacking debacle and insists that the public simply won’t stand for the owner of such a corrupt corporation to be allowed to wedge his foot any further in the media door. Yes indeed – what a shock that we should discover a corporate multi-billionaire to be more concerned with takeover bids and equity than with maintaining a high level of journalistic integrity.
I feel inclined to point out also that Hunt’s decision was not in fact much of a decision at all. He had no choice. News Corporation made its own careful and tactical decision not to take steps to minimise its share of the UK media – essentially forcing Hunt to refer the takeover bid to the Competition Commission. Why? Because it will be better for Murdoch to postpone, wait for the heat to die down and eventually see his plan approved, than to risk it being shot down completely amid the present turmoil.
The government is not and never has been in control of this decision. Ministers have always been in Murdoch’s pocket for fear of upsetting the man who owns four (now three) national newspapers, not to mention a few news channels. Michael Gove was swiftly removed from his post as culture secretary for suggesting that he might look unfavourably on Murdoch’s plans, and replaced with the current more sympathetic Mr Hunt. Even now, the government has proved itself tentative in criticising Murdoch. And Ed Miliband, though correct in his sentiment, is unconvincing as Murdoch’s arch-nemesis.
Who runs this country? I certainly did not vote for Rupert Murdoch. And although I did not vote for Cameron or Clegg either, their names were at least on a ballot paper somewhere. It is terrifying to think that one man may be given leave to take control of vast swathes of our media. The media, as a mass source of information and popular culture, is the most powerful influence on our lives today. It can mobilise and repress entire populations; it tells us how to dress, what to eat and what to buy. The power our elected government wields pales in comparison – even more reason why said government should do its upmost to ensure fairness and regulation in the industry.
This scandal, in as much as it is about trust in journalism, goes deeper. We should ask ourselves why we were content to allow one man to gain so much power. Why do we only question the supremacy of the super-rich when we are forced to do so?
My worry for the future is that we will eventually forget all about the hacking scandal. When the shock has dulled and the press have moved on, we will assume all-is-well again. And this is when Murdoch will make his move. And, barring another moral crisis in the industry, there will be nothing in the way to stop him.