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Self Interest

28 July 2011

For the last few weeks the airwaves and newspapers have been full of the phone hacking scandal at the News of the World and the ensuing ramifications for the Murdoch family’s dynastic News Corps. As each day passes some new revelation emerges. It is clear that this story is far from over.

The phone hacking debacle has given the Murdoch empire’s media rivals a field day for reporting all the alleged misdemeanours in forensic detail, extracting every last ounce of of self righteous indignation from their wall to wall reporting. This prurient hypocrisy really does stink of self-interest in all its unpleasant guises.

The press, particularly the red top tabloids, have enjoyed a lifetime of  dodgy dealings, door-stepping the innocent, bereaved and the depraved. Always quick to mock, judge and accuse. Like moral crusaders these self righteous zealots trumpet their journalistic scoops and allegedly speak out on their readers’ behalf as the ‘voice of the nation’. If this is our nation we should have pity on ourselves as we must be a country of fornicating clergy, benefit fraudsters and B-list celebs that spend our lives going to parties with other B-list celebrities, footballers’ wives and not forgetting footballers, presumably with other people’s wives! 

Phone hacking should come as no surprise when the likes of Kelvin Mackenzie, the iconic past editor of the Sun newspaper, was once overheard to claim: “Why let the truth get in the way of a good story”. And when asked about his role as editor of this top selling newspaper, he replied: “It’s my job to sort the wheat from the chaff, and then print the chaff!” Yet the red tops as well as the more serious broadsheets, have been reporting the the phone hacking saga with gleeful abandon, their tone adopting the predictable ‘shock horror’ parody of surprise and earnest moral outrage.

Newspapers and all media outlets rely on their secret ‘sources’ for a good story. The word is that the Daily Telegraph paid an informant working in Parliament (not an MP I hasten to add) for the details of MPs witless expense scams. This won the Telegraph the title of ‘Newspaper of the Year’ for its investigative reporting that dominated so much of the news agenda in 2010. It also resulted in four MPs and two members of the Lords being sent to jail for their creative accounting shenanigans. Whilst the information obtained was accurate and did expose large scale fiddling in high places, the way in which the data was originally obtained could be seen as equally unseemly.

Closer to my home,  Harrogate residents have been treated to wide-spread local media coverage of ridiculous plans to re-organise the town’s traffic routes. The most outlandish of these was a plan by a property developer who proposed re-routing all of  Harrogate’s traffic through the town’s most tranquil and treasured Georgian and Victorian quarters. The plan boasts that the existing thoroughfare, Parliament Street, become pedestrian only and the town centre cenotaph area is turned into a paved piazza. This would entail digging up an existing green sward, much favoured by young people on sunny days, and to create in all intents and purposes what looks like a super-sized skate-board area. 

On closer scrutiny, these plans reveal that the same developer that is proposing this bold and radical scheme to transform Harrogate’s  town centre just happens to own a number of retail properties on the same street that is to become pedestrian friendly. Should these plans be approved (God forbid!), they will add considerable value to the rental potential and capital values of his properties. Such shameful self-interest is driving a plan that only benefits the developer’s financial aspirations ahead of any thought of the detrimental impact to the Town’s infrastructure and to the utter dismay of the inhabitants.

In just the same way in which the media are feasting on the problems of their rivals so we can all be guilty of suffering from that ‘schadenfreude’ moment (deriving pleasure for other’s misfortunes), when we see the arrogant and powerful being brought down to size. This is a common trait that does nothing either to advance the human condition or make us better citizens. So why is it so loved by media commentators? In truth it is just self-serving, lazy journalism masquerading as ‘important’ news.

Yes, the media can play a vital role in seeing that justice is seen to be done and wrong-doers are brought to book.  But the process should avoid gloating, sanctimoniousness and above all the accusers should serve the interests of the public and not indulge in a grand show of chest-beating self aggrandisement.

The media is a strange beast. It has taken the magnitude of the Norwegian bomb blasts and the slaying of innocent youngsters to at last expunge phone hacking from the media spotlight. Rupert and James Murdoch must be thanking their lucky stars that this appalling news story has for the moment diverted speculation about their multi billion pound global business. But even before the Norwegian horror story broke the EU Summit on the Greek bale out plans and the looming famine in East Africa were relegated to third rate news coverage. At journalism school you are taught to concentrate on the ‘human angle’ and so it is perhaps not surprising that the fortunes of the Euro and other fiscal machinations don’t get the media over-excited.

Yet if no EU deal had been forthcoming it could have had a fundamental effect on not just the financial stability of many European countries but combustive political implications of the most serious kind. On this occasion it would seem that the collective interests of all the EU members avoided a financial nightmare. Imagine a situation in Europe where each country was looking out for only its own interests? If the doors closed on trade and a siege mentality developed who knows what regimes could emerge from such a melt down?

Self interest wouldn’t be the half of it!

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