Belfast Telegraph

Friday 25 July 2014

Stop the press! Murdoch's behaviour isn't news to me

Rupert Murdoch (L), the chief executive officer of News Corp

I won't miss the News of the World. I'll just go back to my old paper, Andrex. Meanwhile, I'll perch myself in front of the telly for chortling. It's at times like these I wish I could spell 'schadenfreude'.

As I write, Rebekah Brooks is due at the cop-shop to have a natter with Knacker of the Yard. She has passed this way before.

Six years ago, she was arrested at 4am and held for eight hours and fingerprinted and DNA-sampled after her then-husband, Ross Kemp, dialled 999 from their Battersea home to report he was being assaulted.

The Met squad which made a dramatic dash through the night streets of London found Kemp with a busted lip.

The episode sparked mirth among the less-caring members of the hack community. Not only had Kemp been one of the Potato-Head brothers from EastEnders, he was at that time starring in the bone-crunching SAS television drama, Ultimate Force.

Kemp later remembered that it had been during the previous day's filming that he'd accidentally sustained the injury.

The assault had happened - or, to be absolutely accurate, had not happened - after the couple had returned from a party at the Notting Hill pad of Elizabeth Murdoch (daughter) and her husband, PR mogul Matthew Freud.

Alastair Campbell has been on the box a lot in the past fortnight shaking his head in sorrow at the depths to which politics and journalism have been dragged by News International.

Programme presenters have managed with unflappable professionalism not to fall off their chairs and roll around the studio floor as Campbell explained the difference between David Cameron kow-towing to News International today and his own 1995 journey to the other side of the world with Tony Blair to pay homage to Murdoch at a gathering of News International execs on Hayman Island off the coast of Queensland.

Former Downing Street spin-meister Lance Price recalled in his memoirs that, in spite of this object lesson in abject abasement, Murdoch remained concerned that Blair - if elected - might be minded to take Britain too close to regulated Europe, even into the constraints of the single currency.

To reassure the mogul there was no need to fret, Campbell arranged for Blair to write an opinion piece in The Sun: the idea had popped up when, quite by chance, Campbell had bumped into Sun editor Stuart Higgins on his way to a football match.

"New Labour will have no truck with a European superstate," declaimed Blair. "We will fight for Britain's interests and to keep our independence every inch of the way."

Robin Cook's special adviser, David Clark, said later: "I always took the view that Tony Blair's real Europe minister was [The Sun's political editor] Trevor Kavanagh."

Is there not contained within that episode a scandal as demeaning to politics and as destructive of democracy as anything which has emerged in the last few weeks?

Yet Labour leader Ed Miliband and David Cameron will compete with one another for stridency in the Commons tomorrow as they deplore the effects of Murdoch's influence on British public life.

None of this is ancient history. Just four weeks ago, after The Guardian had already tracked the trail of toxic slime left by News International in its wake as it slithered across the face of British society, Cameron, Miliband and their wives were swanning around the Orangery at Kensington Gardens at Murdoch's annual summer party.

If it goes all the way to the top of the political hierarchy, it goes also to the summit of the corporate structure. Watergate reporter Carl Bernstein writes in the current edition of Newsweek: "Reporters and editors do not routinely break the law, bribe policemen, wiretap and generally conduct themselves like thugs unless it is a matter of recognised and understood policy. Private detectives and phone-hackers do not become the primary sources of a newspaper's information without the tacit knowledge and approval of the people at the top."

The key to understanding the corruption goes back at least to 1986, when men from the Met in Robocop gear assaulted and battered trades unionists night after night outside Murdoch's Wapping HQ to break the unions - the National Union of Journalists as well as the print unions - in line with the wishes of Margaret Thatcher.

Murdoch's empire has been built on unregulated profiteering, union-bashing, police collusion and political manipulation.

The fundamental questions arising are not moral, or primarily to do with journalism. They concern our political system and the extent to which it is amenable to democratic control.

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