Do journalists’ arrests mark the end of the British scandal sheet?

Phillip Stevens nails a few things in the FT. And it picks up some themes from Blair Jenkins point that the transparency principle applies not just to politicians, but journalists too:

By the time the myriad investigations end quite a few journalists may have gone to jail. The process will raise justified concerns about press freedom. For all their flaws, Britain’s rumbustious newspapers are a vital check and balance on the abuse of power. The big challenge, however, does not lie in the prosecution of those who hacked phones or paid bribes. The British media are being throttled by a draconian libel law designed to protect the rich and powerful. State regulation would tighten the noose. The economics of the digital age meanwhile conspire against expensive investigative journalism.

As for Mr Murdoch, the game is up. Investigators at The Sun are talking about “serious suspected criminality over a sustained period”. The swashbuckling style of News International was rooted in an age when proprietors told politicians what to do, journalists did what they liked, and police officers were on cash retainers. Those days have passed. So has Mr Murdoch’s dominion. This need not mean the end of a free press.

It’s almost impossible to exaggerate the innovating effect of Mrudoch’s arrival in Fleet Street. He primped up the tabloid, killed off the print unions and helped lead the Newspaper industry into the digital age… But it is the transparency of the digital age that has also killed off several of his golden geese…

Ah well, we still have Guido

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  • FuturePhysicist

    I think the tabloid media have lost three fights, 1. the ability to get out of 1930’s style prejudices and hysteria and 2. the ability to enable people’s understanding about the world around them the way iPod’s, Wikipedia, Youtube, blogs and pirated internet streams do and 3. The ability to be relevant these days.

    Their only role these days is to drain so much money out of the useful elements of the economy that technological revolutions that could fight climate change and world hunger are held back.

    Luddite, inch loving, hysterical, Peeping Tom chauvinists the whole damn lot of them. Investigative Journalists? Ha!

    Protecting the public against the rich? Erm…try a noun reversal there. Does anyone really believe that most of the celebrities out there constitute the “real rich”?

  • FuturePhysicist

    And if I said those things in a tabloid paper I’d be earning at least £300 per week for said rant.

  • FuturePhysicist

    I earn less than £300 per week.

  • sherdy

    Murdoch (aided by Eddie Shah) was only able to destroy the print unions because he had the full backing and encouragement of Thatcher and the Tory government, and history tells us to be careful of the monster we create as it may devour the creator.
    ‘As for Murdoch the game is up’ – you wish! Remember the old adage ‘The more things change the more they stay the same’.

  • Provocative piece, young Fealty. It all makes some kind of sense if then prime end is you want your tabloids “primped”.

    Fair enough, we punters accepted the slide from Benji the Binman, via Fake Sheikery, into full-on use of illicit intercept assumption and assertion. You’d even find decent folks suggesting that, “Well, it’s her own fault. She should have changed the PIN.”

    Is all fair game in the serious business of titillation? (Now why, in the context of The Sun, did I mistype that word first time round?)

    Even if all that — over “acquired” 9,000 telephone numbers, 5,000 hacked victims, 11,000 pages of evidence — could be water-under-the bridge and/or mutually consensual behaviour between adults, or whatever, there lurks that other little business of “serious suspected criminality over a sustained period”. So I personally lost any sympathy remaining when Trevor Kavanagh went rogue last weekend, under the over-the-top screaming headline:

    Witch-hunt has put us behind
    ex-Soviet states
    on Press freedom

    Yeah, right, Trev. And, sure, you’re not over-egging your pud with this bit, either:

    Wives and children have been humiliated as up to 20 officers at a time rip up floorboards and sift through intimate possessions, love letters and entirely private documents.

    It is important that we do not jump to conclusions.

    Nobody has been charged with any offence, still less tried or convicted.

    Yet all are now on open-ended police bail, their lives disrupted and their careers on hold and potentially ruined.

    Single sentence paragraphs. Even so, you pushed your luck with a sentence of more than eleven words: I thought that was a fundamental law of the Solar System.

    John Junor would have been asking Alice for the sick-bag around here, but we fell your pain, Trev. We fully appreciate the Murdoch press never pawed through the intimate stuff, jumped to conclusions, or prejudged anything, ever, OK?

    And yet …

    What is being investigated is bribery and corruption on a massive scale. Coppers allegedly on ten-grand-a-year retainers from the Murdoch reptile fund. Tendrils into tax and medical records. Breach of the Official Secrets Act. Penetration of the political core — not for great matters of state, but for who was laying whom, and what was in their building society accounts.

    All for what? Where’s any possible “public interest” defence in that?

    [Anyone looking for the change in the climate should compare and contrast the treatment of Euan Blair in 2000 with “Jonny” Spelman this week.]

  • I think it is too early to say.
    I have been following Leveson on a daily basis…it makes a change from “Countdown” and I thought the Tabloid Press was dead and buried after two weeks.
    But they have emerged quite well recently……actually Express Newspapers fared far worse than News International.

    There is a general concensus forming around Leveson and I think the Press will emerge not nearly as wounded as they first thought.

    The Sun arrests has made me re-think this but only slightly. As Mr Redfellow observes Trevor Kavanaghs reaction was over the top and perhaps an indication that the Module involving police could be damaging all round.
    Again this has been a slow slide….from Benji the Binman to Glenn Mulcaire.
    A massive police raid…hardly.
    The arrests followed whistle-blowing……from the Sun.

    But perhaps the most interesting observation……too late to look it up……….was that the nature of stories covered by the tabloids had changed.
    In the 1960s and 1970s the focus was on Crime. …..the cliché being “I made my excuses and left”.
    In the 21st century X Factor and Big Brother has replaced the Krays and the Richardsons.

    So I can actually see a role for tabloids if they move away from “celebrity” and I suspect there is an animosity to celebrities now….they are seen as a luxury in austere times.
    Perhaps the newspapers need to follow the public mood a little…..bankers bonus stories, the MPs expenses, the palpable anger in Glasgow and Portsmouth……..not to mention Athens.
    There are stories there needing to be told and people needing to be exposed.
    I dont think Joe Public has a problem with that. And no great problem with most methods. The biggest proble is the targets.

  • Apologies for the typos in my previous: blame it on a long, late liquid lunch at the Hansom Cab in Earls Court.

    Since we’re on the topic of media, here’s an example of how even the most benighted can redeem themselves. This was once a dismal Charringtons pub, originally the Pembroke Arms, now Piers Morgan owned — uggh! — and as good as it’s pricey. Nice touch: it’s run by Morgan’s brother, and the excellent draught beer is Harvey’s of Lewes — a nod to Morgan’s Surrey origins and Lewes schooling.

    Allow me to continue the metaphor. The Hansom Cab is a gastro-pub, but retains the form of a pub, and updates the notion of an upmarket chop-house.

    Similarly, if real, honest “newspapers” — as opposed to tit-and-bum scandal sheets (consider the Mail website) — have a continuing place in the 21st century, then the best will be “newspapers of record” and, on a day-to-day basis, “views-papers”. So I’m agreeing with most of what fitzjameshorse1745 @ 1:14 am has in those final two paragraphs above.

    There is another anomaly that needs to be explored. If “serious” journalism (and the Kavanaghs and Pascoe-Watsons claim that, not without justice) is under threat, why are periodicals as disparate as the Economist, the Spectator and Private Eye all doing so well?

    Back to Murdoch: now, there was someone riding for a fall. For a quarter of a century the backstairs mumbling has been about his overweening swagger and power. Inevitably the Murdoch gaggle over-reached themselves. Even then it took another half-dozen years for nemesis, which neatly measures the reach of his terror among politicos. When the history of the Brown government comes to be written, beginning the undermining of the Murdoch dominion will be a serious plus point.

  • The arrests may not spell the end of the “scandal sheets” so long as there is genuine scandal to be revealed.
    Whether the arrests help Leveson is a different matter.

    Clearly Justice would be served by arrest, charging and conviction of people who have committed crimes…but is there a bigger picture about the nature of the Press in a “democratic” state.
    While Leveson has at times been tragic (the McCanns), farcical (Demond, Dacre and Grant) disturbing (McMullan)…….the overall lesson is the mantra “not to my collection” and “I dont recall”.
    Of course memory does fail on occasions.(I consider it a major success if I remember why I opened the fridge door) but the collective amnesia of so many witnesses… not perhaps a good sign.

    Is the amnesia merely because there is a question mark over reputation……or is there an aspect of pleading the fifth.
    Perhaps Leveson can distinguish genuine memory failure from institutional memory failure.
    But perhaps his Inquiry would be better served by an amnesty.
    To many…including me….that would be a disturbing judgement to make.
    But the alternative is that the police investigations and Leveson Inquiry really just increases doubt rather than clears it. Indeed many will think this is the best result.

    But it IS a useful pointer on how any Truth/Reconciliation Inquiry (without amnesty) would go.

  • Forget the tabloids. We still have Private Eye.