The News of the World/News International scandal (or Murdochgate as it has been dubbed by the UK media) continues to grow amid allegations that NI’s The Sun newspaper illegally obtained information on the former British Prime Minister Gordon Brown’s newborn child while he was still in office.
This broadens out the problems in three ways. Firstly, while the information on Brown’s child may not have been hacked necessarily (as is being reported) it was still possibly obtained illegally, through the process of blagging, or obtaining classified information under false pretences. Ironically Brown’s Labour government introduced heavier punishment for blagging while still in power. Secondly, it brings into doubt the old red-tops’ excuse that they only investigate or dig dirt on people who “deserve it” (the argument wheeled out by Paul McMullan on Newsnight last week). As Prime Minister, Brown did deserve to be investigated of possible wrong doing, but exposing private medical details about his new born child just seems like a nasty step too far with no real journalistic purpose other than to put the PM on a Murdoch-controlled leash.
Thirdly it proves, as many people had previously speculated, that the rot within NI has spread much further than simply one or two rogue investigators or even one particular publication. It’s getting harder and harder for the Murdoch organisation to claim that these incidents are isolated, as opposed to part of a broader culture at NI. As more and more salacious details leak out and more journalists, politicians and police are implicated, Murdochgate is shaping up to be he biggest scandal in British public life since the Profumo affair. News Corporation lost $3.4 billion in market capitalization yesterday, and now even the American media is interested, which is really saying something.
So, are these crimes going to be the undoing of the oldstream, printed press? Perhaps, but not fully. Yes News International are up to their necks in a sea of shit, but what is really sounding the death knell for newspapers to my ears is the fact that this is a scandal that is breaking and being consumed on the internet. I can’t remember this being the case before, but the web seems to be the only place to keep track on the ever evolving story, as more and more facts and bizarre twists emerge that prove too much to be neatly encapsulated by traditional news narratives.
Television and newspaper reportage just doesn’t seem adequate in this particular case - it took three to four days of issues being covered by a select few sources before the mainstream media deemed them newsworthy, by which time the public was already well aware of what was going on. The delay in reportage was indeed a bit of a gaffe, but more seriously it also brings up the question of media trustworthiness. Why now trust what the media says when the media themselves are directly implicated in a scandal? Press impartiality is out the window, as evidenced by the lack of coverage of Murdochgate in Murdoch’s biggest UK title The Sun.
While it’s ironic that a newspaper broke this story of press misdoings, what’s more telling is the traffic being directed not to the printed Guardian newspaper itself, but to the paper’s website. This paper’s news blog and its live feed is the premier source for keeping up with the scandal as new elements emerge. It’s also highly ironic that the story that sees internet news coverage really come into its own is the story of the major failings of the mainstream media. The author Will Self, in a slightly verbose but incisive article for the Guardian, calls this a tectonic shift in the media. I think he’s right, and I don’t see how the oldstream press can recover from these multiple knocks in confidence and consumption.
Thanks to Richard Metzger for the financial information.