|Magazine - News & Views|
|Sunday, 03 June 2012 11:03|
The arrest of Rebekah Brooks on three charges of conspiracy to pervert the course of justice takes the investigation on phone-hacking by News International to a wholly new level. But what do socialists say about the power of the corporate media in the first place? asks Mike Phipps.
Latest developments make it difficult to see the Murdoch empire ever recovering from this scandal. Far more interesting is how more and more threads in the investigation lead to Downing Street – the close relationship between Brooks and David Cameron, as well as other senior figures in government and the involvement of Cameron’s former spin doctor Andy Coulson in authorising phone-hacking.
Culture Secretary Jeremy Hunt could still lose his job for conspiring with Murdoch in his £8 billion bid for BSkyB which Hunt was supposed to be adjudicating impartially. Now an email revealed to the Leveson Enquiry shows that Hunt colluded with Murdoch to prevent a public inquiry into phone-hacking and help “position” Downing Street on the issue. The trail keeps leading back to Number Ten – after all it was Cameron who transferred responsibility for relations with Murdoch to Hunt after Business Secretary Vince Cable indicated his hostility to the takeover bid and the NewsCorp empire in general.
Ed Miliband has rightly called for Hunt to go, but the roots of the current crisis lie in the New Labour years. They go back to Tony Blair’s 1995 decision to abandon long-standing Labour policies on media ownership and do whatever was necessary to secure the backing of the Murdoch empire. The power of his businesses was allowed to grow unchecked, drawing in politicians and police officers alike.
Of course, the current Government has been equally supine. As NewsCorp sought to bid for a majority stake in BSkyB, tens of thousands protested online and Ofcom advised that the takeover be referred to the Competition Commission. Instead, the Culture Secretary secretly negotiated with the company to let the deal proceed.
MPs on the Culture Select Committee pulled their punches, fearful that their private lives would be put under surveillance by Murdoch’s “state within a state”. When it emerged last summer that News of the World operatives had not just spied on politicians and celebrities, but hacked into the mobile phone of a murdered teenager – endangering the police investigation in the process – public outrage triggered the Leveson Inquiry into press regulation and ethics.
Now, as the Campaign for Press and Broadcasting Freedom argues in a new panphlet*, there is a once in a generation opportunity to put clear limits on how much of the media corporations like Murdoch’s should monopolise. Self-regulation too has clearly had its day. The failure of the voluntary Press Complaints Commission to enforce its own Code of Practice and the defection of key newspapers from its ranks underlines the need for a statutory independent regulator and a stricter code of behaviour.
The enormity of the abuses unmasked in the Leveson Inquiry underline why 80% of people say they no longer trust the media, but it’s more difficult to develop strategies to tackle the problem. Nobody wants state censorship. The concentration of media ownership could be restricted by legislation, but this doesn’t resolve the fact that in a grossly unequal economic system it’s the corporations that own the air waves and the press and they can exercise a huge influence on public opinion and perception and therefore elections and policy as a result. Guaranteeing a right to reply or promoting greater diversity in the media doesn’t begin to tackle this imbalance – although it might be a start.
Michael Meacher MP has called for press ownership to be restricted to UK citizens. This might deal neatly with the Murdoch problem, but it’s not the main issue. Obviously, NewsCorp’s 37% control of the British newspaper market is too high, but where should the limit be set – and how will it stop the media remaining in the hands of multi-millionaires, albeit a larger number of them?
What should we do about headlines like “Muslim gang jailed for kidnapping and raping two girls as part of their Eid celebrations?” which appeared in the Daily Mail in April? Press self-regulation won’t tackle that – a statutory body with legal powers is necessary, involving reader and newspaper union input.
Ultimately the call to democratise the media is a call to democratise capitalism itself. It’s a call to take control of news and information out of the hands of fabulously wealthy corporations and to stop them serving their narrow agenda.