The resignation of Emily Thornberry as Shadow Attorney General in response to the storm of outrage following her tweeting a picture of a house, some flags, and a van while on the campaign trail in Rochester and Strood has been widely held up as a sign of Labour being in chaos. Labour may be split on whether she should have lost her job, but the papers are universal in their condemnation of her – and Labour’s – contempt for the working classes. Or should I say the papers and the Tories are universal in their condemnation. Thornberry is the MP for Islington which as we all know is the epicentre of metropolitan
In contrast to the reported sneering, her only caption is “Image from #Rochester”. Which it unquestionably is. In fact, there is so little information in her words it is effectively a blank canvas, which the whole nation has been able to project their own prejudices onto. The sneering hasn’t come from Thornberry but from everyone else. To accuse her of sneering is to believe there’s something there to sneer at. The flags, the van; the common subtext is that this is someone beneath contempt. Maybe the owner of that van is contemptible but it’s hard to tell just by looking at the picture and she didn’t say so.
So now Labour is in chaos apparently. This only 1 day after the Tories lost a safe seat and the Lib Dems lost their deposit. But our media know which is the story they wish to concentrate on. In today’s Telegraph David Cameron put the boot in unchallenged:
“Emily Thornberry is one of Ed Miliband’s closest allies and aides.
“Effectively what this means is that Ed Miliband’s Labour Party sneers at people who work hard, who are patriotic and love their country. I think that’s completely appalling.”
Let’s just look at the logic behind this and extrapolate it to Mr Cameron’s own party. Forget for a moment that Miliband got Thornberry to resign. It would be reasonable knowing that to think sneering at people who work hard is the last thing Labour approve of. Anyway, by this logic, we could say the entirety of Mr Cameron’s Tory Party is fully behind any of their crackpot utterances which are later disowned. For instance, we could say the Tories all sneer at disabled people and don’t think they are worth paying minimum wage. Though actually, seeing as Lord Freud didn’t get sacked for his faux pas they probably do all think that.
Why then did Ed Miliband demand Ms Thornberry’s resignation? I can’t help thinking it’s for putting her head above the parapet. Miliband and Labour know they will be lambasted at every opportunity and the last thing they needed during a by-election was someone giving the papers some material they could use to criticise.
Following on from this was a sub-furore when Ed Miliband was asked what he thought when he saw something like Ms Thornberry’s tweet depicted. As part of a longer conversation in which he bemoaned that Ms Thornberry had been disrespectful, he answered in contrast that he felt respect. Pass The Sickbag! How bizarre, they cheeped. He really could not win. What did they expect him to say, “why do those vans all have Ferrari engines in them”? If you are going to trash someone no matter whether they say either of two opposing statements then you aren’t reporting or commenting any more, you’re doing the work of their opponents and by the way subverting the political process while you’re on. No one can make an informed decision if their information is skewed.
As if to prove my point the BBC’s Nick Robinson piped up, saying Labour had:
“given the Tory press an alternative narrative…the most extraordinary self-inflicted wound I have seen an opposition party inflict on themselves in many, many years.”
before merrily hammering away on that alternative narrative himself, and in due course inflict some extraordinarily unfair wounding.
It becomes clearer every day that our system, our media are rigged. How could anyone look at political events since Thursday morning and conclude that tweet is the main story? They have made it so against all logic and will continue to do Labour down at every opportunity and indeed even when there isn’t one. The political media have become an apparatus of right-wing propaganda. Or is it just that I have only now noticed?
Plans for the pre-general Election 2015 leadership TV debates have just been made public and much has been made of the fact that Nigel Farage, leader of UKIP, has been included in the proposals to take part in one of them. The traditional 3 main parties plus UKIP would be the only ones involved under the plans. With only 1 MP, and such a recent one that Douglas Carswell had not had time to be sworn in before the news broke, why was UKIP to be included ahead of the Green party who have had an MP since 2010? For that matter, it’s also worth wondering why they would be included in the debates ahead of any of the 9 parties with representation in the House of Commons who have been overlooked.
It’s fairly transparent why the broadcasters would want things the way they’ve suggested; a TV debate between 13 parties would be in danger of being unwatchable. Never let it be said that our broadcasters are looking for a fair and balanced series of debates which allow all parties to get their point across. Like all our news media they are already pursuing the particular narrative which they perceive will be the big story of the coming election, the rise of UKIP as a major political force. They’ve been doing it for some time now. They cover it because it interests them, it gives them something to talk about, to fill up the endless hours of coverage. But because they keep covering the story it becomes ever more likely to come true. Without the seemingly endless and up to now disproportionate coverage of UKIP and Nigel Farage, would they have made the inroads they have done already? The advantage they’ve gained is perhaps more clearly seen if we put it the other way round: it’s impossible for a party to have electoral success on a large scale without similarly widespread exposure on national TV. Such has the boost been to UKIP’s electoral prospects that they are being spoken of as a genuine 4th major party, and that they have broken the 3-party system which has been our political landscape since the birth of the Labour Party in the early years of the last century.
The shrinking popularity and disillusionment with Labour, Tories and Lib Dems mean that our 3-party system and in particular our First-Past-The-Post electoral voting system are appearing more and more outdated and unrepresentative and in that context representation in TV debates seems very small beer. I’d argue that rather than simply moving to a 4-party system we are now in an age of genuine multi-party politics, but that isn’t reflected by our electoral system. Again, it’s clear why traditional parties would wish to maintain the current system. It sustains them, and holds back possible competition. Because of FPTP, Labour have been able to move away from the concerns of their traditional support base without losing seats. Enough people will vote for them in their heartlands no matter what that for over a decade they’ve felt able to allow the centre of national political debate to shift to the right, to the chagrin of many who feel deserted by Labour’s refusal to oppose what has therefore become the political consensus. Despite the calls of “Red Ed” and Labour undoubtedly attempting to appeal more to their core recently, the number of Blairites still influencing the party mean it’s unlikely to go further. Most of the people left behind by this have no-one electable to the left of Labour who they can vote for as things stand; in 99% of constituencies a vote for a non-Labour party of the left will not result in them winning a seat, and that vote is effectively pointless. Indeed, for some time the Lib Dem electoral strategy has been that “Party A cannot win here; Only the Lib Dems can stop Party B in this constituency”, the identities of parties A & B of course being switchable according to the realities on the ground. The abhorrence of tactical voting seems to have been lost in all this. The idea that people feel forced to vote for someone they don’t support merely to prevent someone else winning who they think is even worse should be anathema to anyone who believes in popular representation. Why can’t my vote for a party in Newcastle be pooled with that of a fellow-supporter on the South coast, both of us safe in the knowledge that our votes will not be wasted?
The Lib Dems appear to be about to pass on their status as the national party of tactical voters to UKIP anyway. Despite their manifest failures in government, the Lib Dems at least attempt to position themselves between Labour and Conservatives and so by default are a lesser evil than the other of the 3 to supporters stranded in an unwinnable seat for their party of choice. UKIP by contrast set themselves to the right of the Tories. I just can’t see Labour supporters voting en masse for UKIP in marginals ( though some will of course), especially when they have already stated they’ll support a minority Tory government in return for concessions.
It’s a staple of political strategy that 35% or so of the vote would be sufficient for Labour to gain an overall majority, not much more than that for the Tories to do the same. Could it be that if tactical voting no longer took place, not only would the vote of the 3rd party be reduced, but that of Labour & Conservatives as well? People who were disillusioned with the traditional party of left or right would no longer feel the need to vote for them rather than risk the other winning. Minor parties could be expected to hold the major party of their side of the debate to account in coalition government. Unlike the Lib Dems (who may be wiped from the political scene next time) they’d be sharing power with a dominant partner whose broad programme wasn’t too far from their own. It’s a vision of fragmentation, yes, but one of political engagement too, where people vote for parties they agree with and gain outcomes they approve of. It can only be achieved by ditching our electoral system. The self-interest inherent in the major parties wishing to maintain the status quo means they cannot be left to decide on what will happen. The only acceptable ongoing process would be for an independent body to decide on options for changes to the electoral system, and then put it to the nation. Maybe they can debate that on TV.
In the minutes to February’s Fans Forum meeting a reference is made to the issue of media access packages being raised. The issue referred to is that of the club wanting media organizations to pay for different levels of access to club staff; the more you pay, the more extensive and more exclusive the access. The answer as listed in the minutes was an unequivocal denial:
“The Club stated that the newspaper story claiming it had written to media with a suite of packages was not true. Written media are still permitted access in line with PL rules; however the Club’s primary focus is on enhancing the mutually beneficial relationships it has with those who contribute to the Club commercially, including BBC Radio Newcastle and rights-holder broadcasters such as Sky Sports.”
That would seem to be the end of the story, wouldn’t it? The original newspaper story was not true. It’s there in black and white. But look at the denial again. The club have actually only denied the physical act of writing to media companies suggesting such a plan. I don’t of course suggest that denial is false, just that there are other possibilities not covered by it.
Let’s look at what has happened this season in the club’s relationship with the press. As stated in the Forum minutes already mentioned they are still allowed access in line with Premier League rules. This means they can go to the manager’s pre- and post-match press conferences and get an interview with a player after a game. The press used to get a lot more access, especially as regards player interviews. So access for the written media has been scaled back considerably, even if you’re not on the ever-lengthening list of those subject to bans from the stadium. ( On the subject of stadium bans it’s amusing to note that for 3 games in March a sizeable section of the press pack and Alan Pardew himself were all unable to enter the stadium, while Mike Ashley and some seriously disillusioned players felt the need to turn up. Pretty much everyone ended up somewhere they didn’t want to be. ) Also as stated in the quoted part of the Forum minutes, the club freely admit to concentrating on the needs of financial contributors to the club in the media. Local radio and Sky Sports fall in this category as they say but it’s certainly still possible that the club were seeking those in the written media to contribute, despite the incomplete denial in the Forum. It could still be that the bans and the general scaling back of access for the written press were part of a strategy to persuade someone in that sector to pay to be a media partner of the club, either official or unofficial, in order to gain enhanced interview access.
The Forum denial could be a genuine attempt to give out information. The club could be trying to make the fans aware that no attempt has been made to sell media access to players. But the evidence of the press bans and the scaling back of print media access in conjunction with the club’s own admission of wishing to concentrate on those paying for access points towards something else. The denial appears to have been another instance of the increasing levels of obfuscation employed by the club, in actual fact a cleverly phrased attempt to throw people off the scent. It’s a statement which at first seems to deny something outright but upon closer inspection only denies a very specific aspect of the issue, and a relatively unimportant one at that.
Making it more difficult for the press to gain information about the club is the main method of drawing a veil over what is going on internally. Mike Ashley is famously reluctant to relinquish his own personal privacy and perhaps the corporate attitude is an extension of that. Of course, for any company there’s a trade-off between limiting what they want the public to know about their operations and gaining positive publicity for themselves. The Fans Forum is the main response of Newcastle United to accusations that their communications haven’t been good enough, their attempt at achieving the trade-off they desire. Despite their desire to control the information supply though, they are so poor at it that every single Fans Forum meeting has provided either genuine revelation or confirmation of previously only suspected uncomfortable truths.
If Mike Ashley doesn’t see what the club gains from providing stories to the papers, that the dependency so far as he’s concerned is one way, then he may of course have a point. Their business model relies on football stories direct from Newcastle United, particularly the local papers, in a way that’s not true in reverse or not at the moment anyway. When you are close to selling out the stadium every game anyway then the benefits of drumming up interest in the team are hard to quantify. It’s a short-sighted attitude at best though. Some day the club may need the exposure and they won’t be able to buy it. Fans like to read about their team too. There’s a mutually beneficial relationship between club and press, but to value it you’ve got to accept that the needs of fans have some importance, and that’s not something Ashley will ever agree with.
In case you’re unaware, the People’s Assembly held a March against Austerity through London at the weekend. An estimated 50000 people participated and high profile speakers such as Owen Jones, Caroline Lucas MP and Russell Brand addressed the crowd.
Soon after it had begun however, complaints arose from activists and supporters that the march was being ignored by news media, specifically the BBC. There were stories in newspapers and on websites about the march, but they were mostly explaining why the ‘news blackout’ was taking place rather than reporting the event itself. Two in nominally left-leaning titles particularly stood out.
The first, in the New Statesman, claimed marches just aren’t that interesting. People on the street, even in fairly large numbers, do not make for a newsworthy event. You can almost feel the ennui of the author as he states that marches like this happen
..three or four times a year in London alone, usually with the same people carrying the same banners.
Strangely, the reasoning becomes muddled when it’s claimed that actually, there was coverage on the BBC (on the radio mostly apparently). Surely either something’s not newsworthy, or it’s on the news, not both. The piece completely misses the point in other ways too. This wasn’t just another march. It was partially about the perceived lack of coverage of anti-austerity arguments. The march itself started at the BBC’s New Broadcasting House, as if to say “here we are! you have to notice us now…” Of course it might be said that by making the march about the BBC nothing could have been more certain than that the state broadcaster would fail to adequately report criticism of itself. Maybe that’s unwise for a campaign struggling for whatever publicity and recognition it can get. Then again, it’s not like the activities of the People’s Assembly against Austerity troubled the scorers at the BBC much before so why not, when they have nothing to lose? Enshrined in the very premise of the article is that BBC editors just didn’t find the protest interesting, as if there’s nothing wrong with that. Contained within that explanation is also the complaint. It’s not that there is some kind of conspiracy in the newsroom against this campaign. The fact is that most of the people employed by the BBC – and most other news media – tend not to find this sort of thing interesting. They don’t agree politically, they don’t know anyone who thinks the protesters have a point, and just like Willard Foxton who wrote the New Statesman’s piece they are tired of people moaning about an entirely understandable and justified government economic policy. You only get a job by demonstrating you think the right way. So journalists are free to print (or say) what they like, because the people in charge already like what they think. That’s where the bias comes from, where the blackout originates, in the colonisation of the news media by the middle and upper classes, and the concomitant narrow range of political views they are prepared to represent.
The other piece, on the political website Left Foot Forward at least openly states
Media bias is one factor … less because of a deliberate decision to exclude anti-austerity protests, and more because of the class backgrounds of many journalists. …having little invested in the services this government is cutting means that many journalists slip effortlessly into narratives of the cuts being “inevitable” and austerity coming as a consequence of “runaway government spending”
It goes on to explain the other supposed factors. “Protest marches rarely achieve anything”, which is true but that’s no reason not to report on it. England rarely win the World Cup but there’s no lack of column inches on that. There’s more:
This specific argument has been lost… There is no longer a mainstream anti-austerity narrative… The Tories and the Lib Dems are making cuts, Labour are going to make cuts and no one who isn’t is going to get anywhere near power anytime soon. As far as the media is concerned the debate is over.
Again, in a way all true. There isn’t a mainstream anti-austerity narrative if by that you mean none of the three traditional main parties are against it, and the media see those who are as discredited flat-earthers. Undoubtedly this is a factor in the behaviour of the news media, but once again that doesn’t mean this state of affairs is right. The piece mentions polls quoting 42% regarding cuts as good for the economy, with 37% disagreeing. That’s very close to an even split, 37% of people disagreeing with austerity without there being any coverage at all of the arguments against it in the news media, the nation’s main opinion formers. Imagine what those figures would be if there were actually balanced coverage of the arguments.
Where the Left Foot Forward piece discredits itself is in saying the protesters answer to austerity, of taxing the rich, would result in the rich leaving
…the country, taking their businesses, tax revenue and jobs with them. You may profess not to care about such things, but whether you like it or not you still need money to pay for services and the like.
The assumption here being of course that all economic activity is reliant on the rich.
Worse still, it then lets itself down by referencing the Laffer Curve. This theory states that increasing tax rates above a particular level results in lower tax revenue, and is most often used as a justification to reduce higher-rate taxes. Laffer was a member of Ronald Reagan’s administration in the 1980s which cut higher rate income tax to a third of its previous level, ending in US budget deficit quadrupling and government debt tripling. His theory is counter-intuitive and discredited.
It’s indisputable that what our media find interesting doesn’t necessarily result in the coverage we’d wish for. Last week BBC News aired a lengthy segment including several minutes interviewing a political correspondent about a joke – possibly hacked – tweet from Labour HQ offering free owls for everyone. Yet I’m still waiting to see any coverage at all of Labour’s pledge to repeal the Health and Social Care Act for instance, surely of interest to the large numbers worried about the future of the NHS.
The failure of our political parties to provide a choice for voters on austerity and any number of other potentially divisive issues make it easy for the media to claim there is no dissension on these subjects. For the BBC, so desperate to safeguard the licence fee it rebuts criticism of the government rather than risk being accused of bias against it, this is probably something approaching a godsend. Even so, I think it is safe to say that a very large section of the country are opposed to austerity. We should hear their arguments.
A few weeks ago it came to light that the Evening Chronicle, Newcastle’s main local evening paper, had entered into a joint scheme with payday lenders Wonga to provide a £30,000 fund for local sports clubs to apply to for funding. Wonga are Newcastle United’s main sponsors and there’s been some discussion about the rights and wrongs of whether a company with their business model should be sponsoring the club. Even so, the Chronicle seemed to see no conflict of interest in entering such an arrangement with an organisation which was at the centre of controversy about sponsoring an institution so central to the city. That’s a controversy, not to put too fine a point on it, which the Chronicle should be informing and reporting upon to the citizens of Newcastle in a fair, balanced way. That involves examining the issues and providing their readers with the information necessary to understand what’s going on.
The suspicion quickly arose that the Chronicle’s editorial independence may have been compromised, and so it proved. The language used to describe Wonga in the Chronicle’s pages had subtly changed. No more ‘payday lender’, replaced by ‘digital finance company’ in all cases from a few days after the deal, certainly a less harsh description.
Further examination of recent stories provides evidence of the presence of a positive editorial line when printing stories about Wonga. View these two stories covering the same event, a meeting between Wonga PR chiefs, Newcastle United employees and fan representatives on Aug 19th. One is from the Chronicle, one from the Journal.
The Chronicle’s, despite having a picture showing a Citizens Advice Bureau representative and Newcastle Central MP Chi Onwurah, doesn’t mention them or their contribution to the debate in any way. In 3 main sections, we are told firstly that fans are grateful to Wonga for turning up and secondly that the club are very happy to have Wonga as a sponsor. Finally, there are a series of quotes from the Wonga representatives explaining away their controversial image and concerns about their role as sponsor without ever mentioning what that controversy is about, or what the concerns are.
The Journal story is quite a contrast. From the off it has a completely different tone, while also covering the positive angle on the deal which is the only focus of the Chronicle story. We learn about a strongly-worded attack on the company by Chi Onwurah. There are quotes from Newcastle CAB’s Chief Executive expressing worry about the company’s presence in the city. There’s mention of a question from the floor about fan hostility. The reasons for misgivings about the sponsorship deal are explained clearly and at length, and a long list of prominent organisations who share those misgivings is provided, from the Church of England, MPs, Unite the union, Newcastle City Council, and the Citizens Advice Bureau.
The two stories provide a completely different spin on the same event. What is shocking is that the two papers they appear in are sisters, both owned by Trinity Mirror, the Journal being the morning counterpart to the Chronicle in the evening. Not only are the two papers in the same stable, the two stories were written by the same person, reporter Kate Proctor. The only explanation for the differing slant in the two stories is editorial instruction. Why would the Journal be immune from this? Who knows. It appears to be the case however.
In a piece printed in the Chronicle tonight as a reaction to the recent transfer window, the question is asked of Newcastle owner Mike Ashley “how much do you pay the North East Press pack to write nice things about you?” The answer, in Wonga’s case, appears to be £30,000, the amount they provided for the Chronicle’s Wish Sport fund.
Newcastle’s main local evening paper, the Evening Chronicle, have instituted a fund for not-for-profit sports groups to apply for. The money’s being provided by payday lenders Wonga, sponsors of Newcastle United.
I pointed out last week that the controversy around the sponsorship of the football club and stories linked to that meant that the association between the paper and Wonga was unwise. The Chronicle are a major source of news for NUFC fans and when they come to report on these issues, as they must, their impartiality is bound to be questioned as a result of their relationship with Wonga. There are some who have no problem with Wonga’s business model and the exposure they have gained in a city never far from issues of poverty. Even they will surely be able to see that the Chronicle’s editorial standpoint has been compromised over this.
Can we see this beginning to happen already on a small scale? If you run a search for “Wonga” on the Chronicle’s own website, it’s perhaps telling that since just after the Wish Sport fund was set up, there’s been a subtle change in how Wonga are referred to. A post on July 4th was the last time Wonga were referred to as a “payday lender”. Since then they’ve become a “digital finance company”.
Still think the Chronicle will cover United’s sponsorship as they should, providing the reader with all the relevant information and opinion to allow them to make up their own mind? Lets hope this outbreak of politeness towards Wonga is temporary for the duration of the funding scheme.
Newcastle’s Evening Chronicle has just announced a new fund it’s running which will give local not-for-profit sports clubs the chance of gaining a share of £30000. In these straitened times, with government funding disappearing and FA grass-roots funding being frozen, access to even a small portion of the fund could be the difference between folding and not for many organizations. The whole point of sport surely has to be promoting health, fitness and ultimately the enjoyment of exercise. Super fit millionaires on the telly should really be a sideshow compared to this main event. On that front this is a very good initiative as the help this cash would give could be invaluable in persuading people to carry on what they are doing.
The £30,000 has been provided by Wonga, payday lenders and sponsors for the new season of Newcastle United. You can see why all parties involved are doing this. Each club’s share of the pot is determined by the number of tokens collected from the newspaper by that club. So the Chronicle gets a circulation boost for free. Wonga, whose sponsorship of Newcastle has come under fire, gain both local exposure and further legitimacy reflected from the institutions they are associated with. This initiative is a clear extension of their original strategy of sponsoring the football club. Everyone’s happy.
But there’s a catch. Possibly the Chronicle’s main method of persuading people to buy the paper is their reporting of the day-to-events at Newcastle United. As often as not, if you look on the sandwich boards outside of newsagents in the city, the lead story they trumpet is club-related. As the season gets started, the story of Wonga’s sponsorship is not going to go away. More than one of the club’s players are rumoured to have misgivings about playing in a strip with the company’s name on, for reasons which include the religious doctrine they adhere to. A section of the club’s fans also have misgivings, mainly based on the fear that Wonga’s products and services will gain traction in the city due to the prominence and respectability loaned by sponsorship of the club. A credit union is a better choice for a short-term loan, not carrying with them such a risk of the sum owed spiralling out of control should repayments not be made in time, but they don’t get their name on every Newcastle United shirt sold over the next few years.
What will the Chronicle do the next time it is natural for them to cover these stories? Have they decided on our behalf that Wonga’s sponsorship is no longer an issue? If that’s the case Wonga can expect a pretty favourable slant to the copy, if the stories see the light of day at all. If they haven’t then surely the paper can see that associating themselves with a company so central to much controversy around their main daily subject of discussion puts their impartiality in question.
Maybe the Chronicle value that vital grassroots funding above all else, and are so confident that they’ll cover the stories on this subject completely impartially that they are prepared to go ahead and expose themselves to whatever scrutiny may result. But by implication, if they’ve chosen to do this they obviously see nothing wrong in associating themselves with Wonga. It would be a shame if this funding were to disappear, that’s clear. Unfortunately by the very act of Wonga’s name appearing next to the Chronicle’s on this fund, they have chosen their side.
At the Tory Party Conference this week, Michael Gove claimed one of the things Rupert Murdoch could take credit for was changing football for the better, “his investment in Sky, it’s not my first love but it is worth acknowledging, has helped to revive Premier League football in this country” Sky has certainly improved the technical quality of football coverage and they should be congratulated for that. Gove has probably been very successful in his choice of words. The Premier League has indeed had a huge influx of money thanks to Sky’s need to use football to boost its subscription base. Unhappily, the rest of football has effectively been thrown to the lions, only benefiting from the bounty through transfer fees in the kind of trickle-down effect which Gove’s party place so much trust in.
You could argue that top-level football has been revived in the Sky era, not by TV money but by a surge in interest after the 1990 World Cup, improved stadia resulting from the Taylor Report, and moves to finally rid football of the malign twin influences of violence and racism that had made them coveted recruiting grounds for the far-right. Sky jumped on a bandwagon that was already rolling and very cleverly used it to hoover up as much cash as they could, though the publicity and exposure they provided, as Gove says, certainly helped at that point. Aspects of the game which have helped the momentum continue are undoubtedly due solely to Sky and the money they provide. In particular, the ability to attract some of the very best talent from all over the world has raised the quality of the football on view. With so many clubs struggling financially though, even with the money from TV rights, it has to be said that the revival seems at the present time to be more of a boom than a sustainable improvement, a bubble that will more likely than not burst at some point. Contrary to current worries though the implications of Karen Murphy’s court case against Sky is unlikely to be the pin that bursts the bubble. It seems that all Sky need to do to prevent foreign satellite being legally shown in pubs in the UK is to put their logo on screen on all broadcasts.
It isn’t Sky’s fault, of course, what the Premier League chooses to do with its lottery win. They didn’t force those club chairmen to break away from the rest of the football league and claim the greater share of TV money for themselves. They didn’t force them to funnel the vast majority of that money down the gaping maw of associated agents, crooked or otherwise, and their grasping proteges, as a reward for a measure of physical prowess. Sky didn’t force them to pile debt upon debt until they are nearly under, leaving them gasping so precariously for air that the slightest slip could be the end of them. For once, in this case it’s not Rupert Murdoch’s fault what the money his company has provided has done to the game. Even so, it has had the effect of giving unlimited funds to an adolescent; better clothed and fancier friends, but ultimately lacking in restraint and guiding principles. For that he should not be thanked.
Even if Sky lose the ability to make their football deals pay and choose not to bid so highly or even not at all at the next set of negotiations, the roof wouldn’t fall in on football in a financial sense. There’s still money to be made from TV football, whether Sky are legally able to corner the market for themselves or not. It could take the form of a deal with a pan-European broadcaster to show games, but surely the eventual endgame will be clubs negotiating their own deals individually. The cutthroat logic the Premier League clubs have lived by since the original 90s breakaway demands it. Money will accumulate to fewer and fewer clubs, problems to more and more. The conclusion commonly made, that Sky has ruined the game, is not strictly true. Football ruined itself, and the motivations that made them do it will continue to make them act the same way in the future.
The News of The World phone-hacking scandal has exploded in the last week following the ongoing allegations of their illegal practices now extending to non-celebrities generally, and the victims of crime and the bereaved families of dead servicemen specifically. When the phones hacked belonged to celebrities with a secret, no-one cared. For many months after the scandal first broke it was viewed by many, including the police, as the preserve only of obsessive lefty Murdoch-haters, a non-story. Now, to paraphrase President Obama, there’s not much keeping News International from the pitchforks.
The recent allegations are of course deeply shocking. If you tried to choose a course of actions for a newspaper to take which were most calculated to outrage the general public, you’d do well to beat those revealed in the last few days. Those revelations shine a light on the moral vacuum that seems to have existed within the newspaper at the time. Journalists have long been categorized in the public imagination as untrustworthy and heartless, brutally indifferent to fallout from their actions in their story-chasing zeal. Unfair on most though that is, for such a group to shock so badly shows the scale of the wrongdoing. News of the World journalists didn’t just get into the gutter, they lifted the manhole cover and kept going down the ladder until their boots got dirty. It’s become obvious that there was a widespread problem at the paper, that it wasn’t just the actions of a few rogue operators as was previously asserted. That’s a reflection of the culture of the organisation, a culture of acceptance or perhaps even of requiring their employees to act in this way, whether explicitly stated or not. It’s being whispered that the shocking practices weren’t restricted to News International titles, but whether that is true or not, what the week’s news tells us about News International gives us a picture of that organisation, one that has held pre-eminence of influence with successive governments.
Since 1992, governments and prospective governments have fallen over each other trying to gain anointment by the Kingmaker, Rupert Murdoch. Once in power they have then acted in ways calculated to keep News International onside. Labour and Conservative in turn have both been guilty of this. Governments have passed up justified opportunity to curb and censure a press sector that was frequently hostile to them, purely to safeguard career prospects of both a personal and party nature. Remember that Rebekah Brooks was allowed to slip off the hook in 2003 when she admitted to a Parliamentary Select Committee that her paper had paid police officers for information, even then a criminal offence which a commitee member immediately pointed out. Andy Coulson, sitting alongside her that day, merely stated that they had done it within the law, and everything was alright again. No-one cross-examined to ask how it could be possible to perform a criminal act within the law. Worse, no-one used the admission of criminality as the starting point for a criminal investigation. On the contrary, the police concealed the existence of evidence of criminal acts, all while members of the Met were in the pay of News International.
Politicians’ reasons for courting Murdoch are simple, they feared the influence of his papers turned against them. For government to be directed in its policy by an organisation so twisted, so immoral, so lacking in anything even remotely discernible as principle, is a disgrace. For police to aid that organisation’s employees in ensuring they escaped prosecution for criminal acts is an even bigger scandal than the phone hacking in this case.
Clearly News International became too influential, mainly due to their control of a large section of UK news outlets. Despite this there is still doubt as to whether they will be prevented from extending that control even further by buying 100% of BSkyB. It would seem self-evident that the scale of their control must be reduced. No government should be in thrall to any corporation. No corporation should be so powerful as to become immune to prosecution.