Sooner or later I had to break my blogging hiatus: it was just a matter of waiting for a suitable jolt to come along. Something that I couldn’t let pass without comment. Without doubt, the extraordinary events that have taken place concerning the News of the World, its parent company News International and the implications for the prime minister, the police and the entire news industry was that subject.
By now everyone knows the story, more or less. Tawdry Sunday tabloid allegedly employs all manner of devious and underhand methods to obtain information about celebrities: namely, phone hacking. On the whole, the nation shrugs. Then it transpires they are accused of employing the same methods in the case of murdered schoolgirl Milly Dowler. Cue righteous and justifiable outrage. Then it gets worse: the family of the murdered Soham girls, 7/7 victims and their friends and families, relatives of soldiers killed in Iraq and Afghanistan were all targeted too. There seemed to be no end to the depths of the paper’s depravity, no ethical barrel they would not scrape the bottom of to get a lead on a story. National outrage ensued, questions asked in Parliament, much heat on David Cameron (who famously recruited former NotW editor Andy Coulson), accusations of the paper paying the police for information, campaigns on Twitter and Facebook to boycott the newspaper and, indeed, anything else to do with parent company News International. All made the more interesting, of course, by the fact that a decision is due to be made on whether News International should be allowed to pursue its takeover of BSkyB. Soon, reacting to the public outrage, major News of the World advertisers began pulling the plug. News International, meanwhile, announced that they were performing their own internal investigation to be led by chief executive Rebekah Brooks (née Wade), who is herself at the centre of the storm given that she was editor for much of the period under scrutiny.
What a morass of moral torpor.
Then today News International took the remarkable step of shutting down the newspaper altogether. Their best selling and most profitable paper (indeed – depressingly – reported to be the most widely read English language newspaper in the world), brought crashing down in less than a week, after 168 years of publication. A remarkable series of events.
The whole thing still has a putrid stench about it of course. The people paying the ultimate price are the current staff of the newspaper who, as it stands, are not suspected of any wrongdoing (other than being tabloid journalists, of course, which, shameful as it might be, is not actually illegal) while the executives at News International remain in gainful employment. Of course their main motivation is to clear the decks to continue to lobby for BSkyB ownership. They could never do that while there remains such fuss around the actions of the paper. By ridding themselves of this toxic brand they hope to draw a line under the whole affair. Undoubtedly they will at some point soon re-enter the Sunday tabloid market – already rumours abound that the staff at The Sun have been told that the paper should prepare to be produced seven days a week instead of six. Additionally, the web domains sunonsunday.co.uk and sunonsunday.com were apparently registered a couple of days ago. (Meanwhile some wag has already nabbed the Twitter identity….) You can hardly expect News International to give up several million readers to their competitors now can you? Expect The Sun on Sunday within months, if not weeks.
Rebekah Brooks clings onto her job for now despite continuing clamour for her to step down. Somehow she still has the unambiguous support of the Murdoch clan: James Murdoch said earlier this evening that he is “happy with Rebakah Brooks’ ethics”. Yes, well, when prompted Satan says something very similar about his chief demon. This is not exactly a credible endorsement. I suspect the pressure will continue to build against Brooks and she will, eventually, have to stand down to “protect the brand”. We can probably also expect some more incriminating information to come from disgruntled NotW hacks who, come the weekend, find themselves unceremoniously dumped from the NI payroll.
Meanwhile, according to The Guardian, Andy Coulson is going to be arrested tomorrow morning over his involvement in phone hacking and alleged payments to police officers, which could have serious repercussions for David Cameron.
The press. The police. The politicians. The whole story could have been scripted by James Ellroy. Looking forward to more revelations in the coming days.