Feature

United Kingdom: Good-bye to the News of the World

The News of the World closed down this week, amid revelations that it had hacked the phone messages of thousands of people.

The News of the World scandal has exposed corruption at the very heart of British journalism, said George Monbiot in The Guardian. The tabloid owned by media magnate Rupert Murdoch closed this week, brought low by revelations that it had hacked the phone messages of thousands of people, from royalty and politicians to crime victims. The News of the World actually bribed the police for information, turning the force into “Murdoch’s private army.” But other Murdoch papers, including the Sun and The Times, are also being implicated in wrongdoing, amid allegations that they tried to smear former Prime Minister Gordon Brown “by any means, including hacking the medical files of his sick baby.” This search for titillating scoops is a far cry from journalism’s proper purpose of holding the powerful to account. Most British papers have abandoned that mission, choosing instead to promote the interests of their millionaire owners. They “run endless exposures of benefit cheats, yet say scarcely a word about the corporate tax cheats.” It’s all a giant scam, “a fake grassroots crusade serving elite interests.”

Yet the British public eats it up, said Dominic Lawson in The Independent. It’s easy to point fingers at Murdoch, at his editors, at the politicians who suck up to them, or at the corrupt police. “But the truth is that the paper’s success was always based on the daring of its snooping, and the more outrageously it snooped, the more it sold.” That goes for all the tabloids. There was no condemnation when the Sun bugged Prince Charles’s phone. Instead, millions of Britons dialed the Sun’s special line so they could listen in for themselves as Charles told his mistress, Camilla, that he wanted to be her tampon. When The People bugged a minister’s apartment to listen in on a tryst, readers didn’t say that was an invasion of privacy. They “feasted avidly” on his humiliation.

You elitists simply can’t stand “mass tastes,” said Brendan O’Neill in The Telegraph. That’s why you clamored for the closure of the News of the World. It’s not “people power” that killed our most popular newspaper, as Labor leader Ed Miliband claims, bur rather a “dictatorship of do-gooders.” When “well-to-do commentators help to deprive 7.5 million people of their Sunday read—and what’s more, claim to be doing it in order to save those 7.5 million people from being morally corrupted—that is not a democratic moment.”

That’s the real scandal—“the death of a great national newspaper founded more than 160 years ago to bring the newly literate working class into the world of news and comment,” said Matthew Parris in The Times. And for what? For decades, British newspapers have run stings and exposés involving hidden cameras. Some of these methods “may occasionally have raised an eyebrow or a laugh,” but the practice was routine. “Why am I supposed to explode with indignation now that it’s officially acknowledged that some newspapers can access private information, and the police are sometimes complicit, when for most of my adult life that’s been obvious? Are we overreacting now—or were we underreacting then?”

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