By way of an analogy it does not follow that because some children are abused by their parents the family unit is a discredited entity. The abuse of press freedoms is a less serious crime, though serious nonetheless. Yet the current outpouring of opprobrium towards News International over the criminal misdeeds carried out or sanctioned by an as yet undetermined number of its journalists, executives and associates – and let us agree that the revelations that brought the New of the World down last week speak of a loathsome newsroom culture – has a canting momentum about it that may yet have some form of pernicious satisfaction.
Sporadic outbreaks of inchoate public rage are now expected events in Britain. The bankers, the MPs, the Lib Dems and Ryan Giggs have all copped it. Now it’s the turn of the journalists, and, er, the coppers. There’s little doubting the hatred is real, and yet one wonders whether there is not a little too much anti-establishment schadenfreude about it. To bow to that sentiment and neuter the press only to find that in the blink of an eye the public pulse has been quickened by some new casus belli would be a mistake.
No doubt the Guardian and to a lesser extent the BBC are to be applauded for helping to expose the scandal; but it is perhaps no coincidence that the latter, in particular, stands to gain much from News Corp’s ruination, or that the former has long demonised Rupert Murdoch, both on an ideological basis and personally. After the phone-hacking business erupted a couple of weeks ago, one Guardian blogger exclaimed: “Let’s hope this is our Arab Spring.” In-keeping with the wider narrative if he meant the Guardian’s; entirely asinine if he meant the country’s.
At any rate the story is unlikely to disappear from that newspaper’s front end any time soon; which will surely give its editorial staff the opportunity to flesh out a vision of Britain’s post-Arab Spring media world. It is encouraging, then, to note that they do not give credence to the notion espoused by Neil Kinnock that newspapers should be made to toe the same line the BBC is meant to on ‘political impartiality’. After all, it is for the left an unpalatable truth that in most places where there exists a free market for news and opinion, titles either marginally or blatantly to the right sell rather better than the alternatives.