Vir Cantium

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After NOTW, We Do Realise Nothing Will Really Change, Don’t We?

I am something of an anorak with political stories and shenanigans, and even I am getting bored with the News of the World thing now, which doesn’t bode well for the marathon of enquiries and minor scandals that will make up the umpteenth links in the chain reaction of stories emerging over the next couple of years.

So let me get this out of the way now: nothing much will change. Let’s look at the key issues:

Journalists will continue to obtain information by dubious means. ‘Hacking’ of voicemail is just the latest incarnation of the phenomenon of the overheard conversation, whether by  some form of eavesdropping or more convoluted sting operations. The leak, for example, is such an integral tool in the obtaining and dissemination of information – sometimes even initiated by the owner of said information – that it is unthinkable that it should not continue.

Some police officers will still be paid to supply information and tip-offs. Again, this has been going on for decades, at least. The police and media cannot live with each other, but crucially cannot live without either, so links will continue. And while the links are in place they will continue to spawn more – ahem – ‘unofficial’ relationships. This extends to contacts in other public bodies, particularly where information is the key commodity. It probably isn’t so much the future abuse by the state of state-held information on the citizen that should be the real concern to Joe Public – it’s the fact that almost everyone has their ‘price’, and anything that the state holds is available to anyone with enough cash or leverage.

Politicians will remain close to key figures in the media. Politics is about the message, and the media are the messengers. How can anyone possibly expect the political classes not to be close to the media? Each wants to influence and use the other. Possibly the most insidious manifestation of this need is when the state itself chooses to become a player in the media, but the BBC will be the subject of plenty other posts on this blog. Nor can we expect any let-up in the traffic of personnel between politics and media, the two professions having so much in common. Any former national newspaper editor will be at an immediate advantage it a race to head up a political parties communications outfit. That is why Coulson was there at Number 10, and why Tom Baldwin is working for Ed Miliband.

Any further media regulation will make little difference. One pretty reliable rule of thumb when it comes to government regulation is that it will do little to increase the quality, only the cost. The real point of regulation is either to provide state-sponsored barriers to entry to a market, and/or to be seen to do something. Either way, one group that will get no benefit from it, other than a false sense of security, comfort and satisfaction, is the public. Don’t believe me? How much lasting difference has the response to the MP expenses scandal – IPSA – really made?

And, of course, we already know that the demise of the News of the World was planned for some time, and the gap will soon be plugged by the Sunday edition of The Sun.

The underlying reason, though, why nothing will change, is that the media-consuming public haven’t changed. Did all the paparazzi-linked tabloids go out of business after her death? Why not? Surely, if people were so disgusted by their behaviour that was popularly blamed (rightly or wrongly) for her death, then not a single edition should have left the shelves?

To repeat a popular phrase in the last week, we get the media we deserve. Too many people (as is their democratic right) are more interested in, say, what their choice of pigs-bladder kickers are doing – on the pitch and off – than what the sometimes more talentless 700-odd in Parliament are up to. Businessmen like Murdoch are simply exploiting that choice of priorities. Don’t like the big media players wielding so much power? Then stop giving it to them; you don’t need to, and shouldn’t, wait for government to take that decision for you.


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