Belfast Telegraph

Thursday 27 November 2014

This is our chance to stop Murdoch for good

The revelation that the News of the World hacked into Milly Dowler's phone provoked outrage. It should be used to smash Rupert Murdoch's power, says Matthew Norman

It has many villains and one or two heroes, while its chief victim lies cocooned from the shock that has winded even the world-weariest media cynic like a kick to the solar plexus.

But the story of Milly Dowler's phone speaks of infinitely more than the posthumous violation of a murdered schoolgirl by Rupert Murdoch's demons and the visceral revulsion that has induced.

This is an amorality tale of systemic corruption; as insidious, deep-rooted, all-embracing, diseased and destructive as any known to a modern Western democracy.

To understand how it came to this - how prime ministers and our premier police force became the enablers of News Corporation's abundant wickedness - you must go back several decades.

When Margaret Thatcher made her Faustian pact with Murdoch in the 1980s, she hastened the creation of the monster we see revealed in all its gruesome hideosity today.

In general terms, she gifted him the preposterous media market-share he parlayed into a stranglehold over the political elite.

This he did with wonted dark genius, coaxing and cajoling, bullying and bribing, to inculcate the near-universally received wisdom that without his approval, no party can be elected or prosper in power for long.

Once Thatcher had established the precedent of obeisance, it was rigidly and cringingly adhered to thereafter by Tony Blair, the successor but one she begat, and now by his self-styled heir David Cameron.

Specifically, meanwhile, she politicised the police by using them as a political truncheon at Wapping, as with the miners' strike. In so doing, she placed them in Murdoch's pocket, where they have snugly remained since.

Those scouring yesterday's Sun for a full account of the Milly Dowler obscenity will have been disappointed by a tiny report on page two. But those who ploughed on to the centre-spread found a nicely-timed reminder of the unholy trinity at work: "On Thursday," ran the taster for the Sun's 16th Police Bravery Awards, "Prime Minister David Cameron will welcome the 59 nominees to Number 10 before a glittering awards at The Savoy."

If the juxtaposition of 'police' and 'bravery' in a News Corp context acquires a viciously satirical ring, it would trivialise this affair to harp on about the pitiful performance of John Yates, whose primary offence, one likes to think, was naively accepting the assurances of colleagues too timid to risk the wrath of the hand that feeds.

Similarly, it feels almost banal to dwell on Rebekah Brooks, whose tenure as News Corp chief executive might not survive a return to a police interview room for the first time since then-husband Ross Kemp, TV's Hardest Man, dobbed her in to the fuzz during a domestic.

The details of who knew what and when are as ghoulishly fascinating as they are undeniably significant. But fixating on the personnel risks obscuring the grander portrait of a system so dominated in absentia by its unconstitutional monarch that its nominal leaders quail in mortal terror of his wrath.

So does everyone else, from the Metropolitan Police upwards. The Press Complaints Commission is the industry's eunuch, while the Tory chair of the Commons media select committee, John Wittingdale, tells us he admires no one in the media as much as Murdoch.

One committee member, Labour's Tom Watson, has been heroic on phone-hacking. If his magnificent example inspired others to conquer their fear, we would be on the cusp of a revolution.

Today there is a tantalising sense that we no longer need to tolerate such Murdoch-Government axis powers' outrages.

I could go on and on cataloguing the Murdoch tentacles that spread everywhere, from the trivial granting of lucrative columns to semi-literate former ministers and retired coppers, to Mr Cameron's breathtaking misjudgment in hiring Andy Coulson as his media supremo.

If the PM has discovered that the second iron rule of national life is that you cannot get into bed with Murdoch without one day waking to a nasty rash and an embarrassing discharge, he has always known that the first is this: whatever the battle, whatever the terrain and whatever the stakes, in the end Murdoch wins.

Today, there is the hope, faint but seductive, of change. Public repugnance on this scale is a rare and precious force in a country beset by apathy. It fades very quickly, and must be harnessed and deployed before it does.

It would take cross-party unity on a scale seldom witnessed outside time of war, with all three leaders agreeing that this, finally, is the moment to take up Vince Cable's rallying cry and go to war on Murdoch.

A full independent inquiry into News Corp's internal workings should be as automatic as one into the Met's scandalous collusion by lethargy. So, needless to add, should an instant reversal of the green light on the BSkyB deal. It beggars all belief that the takeover might still be permitted.

Murdoch has never been as vulnerable as he is today and, if allowed to wriggle free, never will be again. This is an historic opportunity for Parliament to excise the most aggressive malignancy in the body politic these past three decades, or at the very least stop it growing.

Doing so would not mean that Milly Dowler did not die in vain. It would be insufferably glib to suggest that.

But it would honour the memory of her name if something wonderful could be salvaged from an unspeakable tragedy that meant no more to Murdoch's minions - as ever, working to the Fuhrer in whose image they are cast - than another opportunity to cash in.

COMMENT RULES: Comments that are judged to be defamatory, abusive or in bad taste are not acceptable and contributors who consistently fall below certain criteria will be permanently blacklisted. The moderator will not enter into debate with individual contributors and the moderator’s decision is final. It is Belfast Telegraph policy to close comments on court cases, tribunals and active legal investigations. We may also close comments on articles which are being targeted for abuse. Problems with commenting? customercare@belfasttelegraph.co.uk

Latest News

Latest Sport

Latest Showbiz