“makes Murdoch look about as impressive as wrinkly little ant waving a tiny placard”

The arranged arrest of former News International chief executive Rebekah Brooks today, she resigned on Friday, was met with suspicion by members of the House of Commons Culture, Media and Sport Select Committee, as the BBC report notes

Liberal Democrat MP Adrian Sanders, a member of the select committee, questioned the timing of the latest arrest.

“In whose interest was it for this arrest to take place before Tuesday? Because if it does impede what we can ask, that’s not going to go down well with my fellow committee members.

“Quite why now, just a few hours before our select committee meets, an arrangement has been made for an arrest. A lot of people are going to think this is very, very odd.

“If this is designed to take the spotlight off the police at the same time giving a shield to Rebekah Brooks, that’s a very serious matter indeed. We don’t know how much this is going to impede our questioning until we’ve been able to sit down and talk it through with the parliamentary counsel.”

And the subsequent resignation of Metropolitan Police Commissioner Sir Paul Stephenson, because of links to PR consultant Neil Wallis, who worked for News International from 1986 to 2009, will do little to lessen that suspicion. 

Former News International chairman, now chief executive officer of Murdoch’s News Corporation’s Dow Jones and Co unit, Les Hinton, resigned on Saturday.

The latest resignations follow a critical New York Times report on Saturday – “Stain From Tabloids Rubs Off on a Cozy Scotland Yard”.

Although it should be noted that all the political parties, and possibly other media groups, will be grateful that the spotlight is shining elsewhere.  For now.

But the Guardian’s Lay Scientist, Martin Robbins, makes an interesting point

Murdoch had British politicians scurrying to win his favour because he owns four three newspapers here with a combined audience of a few million. Impressive? Not compared to Google, which handles 92% of all internet searches in Britain. Increasingly, what we ‘know’ is what Google tells us. Google is so fundamental to our life that it’s a verb. There will never be a verb ‘to Murdoch’… or at least not a very nice one.

It’s the same story with online news. The Pew Research Centre recently studied traffic to top news sites in the United States, and found that “Google drives 30% of the traffic to the top news sites, being the #1 traffic source for 17 of the 21 sites studied.” Facebook, with it’s half-a-billion users filtering news for each other, was another huge source of traffic.

Social networks and search algorithms are increasingly acting like editors in their own right, determining which stories are important, which articles will be read, and even which facts people will find. That kind of power over the public’s perception of reality makes Murdoch look about as impressive as wrinkly little ant waving a tiny placard.

Lord Leveson‘s hacking inquiry is tasked with producing its first report – on press regulation – in the next 12 months. In a few years’ time the two most powerful news distributors in Britain will probably be Google and Facebook. I’m a fan of both companies, but if their role isn’t examined then Leveson’s report will be about as relevant to the 21st century news environment as an investigation into abuses of the telegraph system.

Of course, the news has to be reported in the first place, but…

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  • Alias

    The point about Google acting as an editor is interesting, since that decides what we to be told is important and what is to be ignored (and thereby deemed unimportant) but it is still only deciding which stories that orginating editors (such as at Murdoch’s online titles) have deemed important are to be deemed important by its algorithm. Since that algorithm is based on precedence determined by orginating editors, that still puts Google in a subservient position, dependent upon the agenda-setting and news-gathering activity of others. Besides, if Google was ever seem to have a political agenda then that would be the end of it since its value is that it is seen as neutral, so we’ll never get “It was Google Wot Won It” shennanigans.

    I can’t see the police doing any questional favours for Google on that basis any time soon, whereas they seem to have done an awful lot of them for the hacks and executives at Murdoch’s empire.

  • Pete Baker

    Alias

    “so we’ll never get “It was Google Wot Won It” shennanigans.”

    No we won’t. That claim, which was always dubious, belongs to a different time.

    “I can’t see the police doing any questional favours for Google on that basis any time soon”

    It’s not the police you need to question on that issue, but the governments.

    What lobbying of the Irish Government has Google done over corporation tax rates, for example?

  • Alias

    I wouldn’t think it is any more toxic than the lobbying that Ingersoll Rand has done in that it doesn’t carry with it the threat of a bad press if the lobbying is not acted upon by government. It’s not like the government would be concerned that Google’s bot may position an unwelcome story from one of Tony O’Reilly’s papers in the same headline position that one of Tony O’Reilly’s editors has positioned it in, is it?

    Most of these media companies depend on ‘goodwill’ from government to expand their empires. Tony O’Reilly didn’t get to be a media mogul in the British colonies of New Zealand, Australia and South Africa (and in the UK itself) without making his papers useful to the British government for propaganda purposes. Likewise, the British government was very concerned that this scandal should not be linked to Mr Murdoch’s bid for BSkyB (as was Mr Murdoch) until that position became unsustanable, so the relationship between big media and government has always been complex.

    Google’s bot cannot make any qualitative assessment about stories or any editorial ‘decisions’ about where it positions them, so all of that is done by the editors of the sourced material that it retrieves with the readers’ priorities and the news agenda remaining framed by those editors and not by Google. That renders Google powerless, and thereby no more toxic than Ingersoll Rand.

  • andnowwhat

    Tomorrow’s Telegraph is going after Cameron.
    They’re reading Paul Stephenson’s statement as a spotlight on Cameron’s failure(s) in appointing Coulson.

  • Rentoul in yesterday’s Sindy is worth a read.

    He essentially makes two points:

    ¶ For the generality, “it’s the economy, stupid”, and the shenanigans with News International et al. are a sideshow. Hence, “making ends meet” is the real story.

    ¶ George Osborne, as much as anyone, is culpable for bringing Coulson into the inner circle, for the over-close relationship with Murdoch & co., but:

    the Chancellor must be protected from the Murdoch contagion, so that the markets will continue to have confidence in his handling of the economy. This is an unexpected effect of the phone-hacking scandal, binding the coalition even tighter to Osborne’s policy on the deficit – a policy in which even the most unpolitical member of a focus group has a strong and personal interest.

    That leaves hanging one further issue, which may in part be addressed later today — can Miliband now extend the assault to all things “unfair”; and thereby start to harness the much larger reservoir of public feelings.

  • Damian O’Loan

    There are already anti-Trust/Competition investigations into Google’s activities taking place in both the EU & the US. The process is much further advanced this side of the Atlantic.

    There is no evidence to suggest that Facebook’s ‘discovery’ model will really displace Google’s ‘search’ model, and thus far there is no evidence to suggest that it behaves abusively.

    “Social networks and search algorithms are increasingly acting like editors in their own right, determining which stories are important, which articles will be read, and even which facts people will find.”

    This is nonsense though. What appears at the top of page 1 is not hand-picked like an editor would do. An algorithm interprets, it does not determine. There has to be huge interest in a story or site for it to be a top result. Social Networks for news are undeveloped and depend likewise on user behaviour. The process is not normative in the way the print media has been.

    The question is of import, though, as Google is accused of manipulating search results to further its own products and hinder competitors. It isn’t a news provider, but on subjects related to its ever-increasing product portfolio, it may reasonably be suspected of subjectivity,

    None of this suggests that a British review would be as helpful as cooperating with the ongoing EU investigation.

  • Steve Hilton (born 25 August 1969) is the director of strategy for David Cameron,” and his wife is “Rachel Whetstone was Political Secretary to former Conservative leader, Michael Howard. She is now global head of communications and public policy for search-engine company Google” and you imagine that Google is not pulling Cameron’s strings, albeit badly? *

    Oh please, grow up. Cameron cannot lead, he just does as he’s told along with all the other puppets in the Cabinet Office and in Parliament. Politics …. it’s a third rate media show and y’all are being played for ignorant mugs for thinking it is anything different.

    You just have to think about about your own jokers occupying seats in Stormont to realise that.

    *Quoted text is from Wikipedia

    What you need to be considering, and it is quite revolutionary, is that SMART InterNetworking is that which is now governing and leading media storytelling to deliver 21st Century Virtual Reality as the default digital landscape shaping the Future of Mankind.

  • But hey, none of that is news, for it has been known for ages …… “Government is the great fiction, through which everybody endeavors to live at the expense of everybody else.” – Frederic Bastiat

  • Bastiat not only was a fine number 8 for the 1977 Grand Slam, he also, 120-odd years earlier, had produced the Parable of the Broken Window (bilingually at http://bastat.org):

    … the bad economist pursues a small present good, which will be followed by a great evil to come, while the true economist pursues a great good to come, — at the risk of a small present evil.
    In fact, it is the same in the science of health, arts, and in that of morals. It often happens, that the sweeter the first fruit of a habit is, the more bitter are the consequences. Take, for example, debauchery, idleness, prodigality. When, therefore, a man absorbed in the effect which is seen has not yet learned to discern those which are not seen, he gives way to fatal habits, not only by inclination, but by calculation.

    These things will pass.

    Most of us in Sluggerdom will outlive Murdoch and his “calculated” “fatal habits”, Cameron’s premiership, and — certainly — this present fuss. What is required of all of us is to ensure that what comes after is healthier and cleaner than what went before.

    Thus Sir Paul Stephenson’s proposition is significant:

    Unlike Mr Coulson, Mr Wallis had not resigned from News of the World or, to the best of my knowledge been in any way associated with the original phone hacking investigation.

    Tease that out and we are left with the discrepancy: Stephenson honourably resigned over something of which he was unknowing; Cameron had been repeatedly warned about Coulson, claimed he had had Coulson investigated, but went ahead with the appointment — twice — all the same. Cameron is still denying any complicity, and stain of guilt.

    In Bastiat’s introduction to his parable (Frédéric, not Jean-Pierre):

    This explains the fatally grievous condition of mankind. Ignorance surrounds its cradle: then its actions are determined by their first consequences, the only ones which, in its first stage, it can see. It is only in the long run that it learns to take account of the others. It has to learn this lesson from two very different masters – experience and foresight. Experience teaches effectually, but brutally. It makes us acquainted with all the effects of an action, by causing us to feel them; and we cannot fail to finish by knowing that fire burns, if we have burned ourselves.

    From whom do we require the longer foresight (Bastiat’s word) — the policeman or the politician with aspirations to statesmanship?

  • Cameron’s face was a picture listening to Jeremy Hunt making his gaffe in admitting that Cameron DID discuss BskyB with the Murdoch’s before the election. And we’re supposed to believe this amatuer is a law unto himself in the cabinet? Cameron laughably claimed in yesterday’s devbate that he had ruled himself out of influence in the decision about awarding BskyB to NI just in time for the election..