In 2009 I attended the wedding of News International chief executive Rebekah Brooks. The ceremony took place by a lake, at a country estate. I stood next to TV presenter Piers Morgan, while Paul Dacre, Daily Mail editor, was a few yards away. Rupert Murdoch was closer to the action. David Cameron hung back up the slope. Gordon Brown, then prime minister, arrived late, with all eyes turning to him as he walked down to the lake.
At the reception I had a brief conversation with Mr Cameron. I said I hoped he would not win the upcoming election, but that if he did, and if he wanted to act to improve political debate and standards in the press, I would support him. For some time the journalist in me had known that the relationship between politics and the media was not serving the public. But it was my first-hand experience of this developing culture of abuse and negativity that convinced me Britain’s press and 24-hour news were making it more difficult for elected leaders to govern.
“It’s got worse, hasn’t it?” he said. I replied that he would be a much stronger prime minister were he to take office not feeling he owed anything to the big media groups. At that point Mr Murdoch joined us, and we changed the subject. Perhaps we should not have done so. That we did, however, illustrated something of the dishonesty at the heart of what are essentially political and commercial relationships.
It is not easy to do what Ed Miliband, Labour leader, did last week, making himself an enemy of some of the media’s most powerful forces. He was right that Labour got too close to News International. But he was also right that, given the media bias against us, he knew why we tried to level the playing field.
In my own defence, and as my diaries show, I argued for some years with Tony Blair that we needed to act on the culture of our media. At one point he ticked me off, asking that I not make my views so obvious in front of Mr Murdoch, his son James and Les Hinton, then chief executive of News International. Ultimately, Mr Blair thought the press had become a problem but that given all our other priorities, people would not understand our taking them on. He also thought it would look like revenge for the fact they had turned against us. And there were political considerations too: trying to govern, and win elections, is hard enough without the press being against you.
I accept that, for all of us, at times media support was something we courted at the expense of positions of principle on media issues. But that trap has now been sprung.
The latest revelations have forced the police, News International and the government to act. The police will now be more vigorous. News International will continue with their kamikaze crisis management, which one day will be studied as a textbook case of how not to do it. But the most important developments are the prime minister’s dual inquiries into press practices and a new system of regulation. These mean we now have a once in a generation opportunity for a new settlement between politics, the media and the public. Nobody can argue that we have the press we deserve. Pressured by technological change, a dominant strain of Britain’s media has gone into a spiral of decline, in which this scandal is only the most dramatic development.
Mr Cameron did not look comfortable announcing the reviews. He has personal relationships at stake and, given he hired Andy Coulson as his communications director, his judgment is too. Already the backlash from parts of the press has begun as they seek to maintain that anything but toothless self-regulation is an assault on a free press. But Mr Cameron must stand back from all of that, and ask himself: “what is the right thing to do?” He did some of it last Friday.
The judicial inquiry should be far-reaching. The News of the World is far from alone in the use of dubious and illegal practices, as widely ignored reports from the Information Commissioner have shown. Parts of Britain’s media remind me of the trade unions before Mrs Thatcher. They feel untouchable.
As I say above, Labour could and should have done more to deal with “the feral beast”. But just as the MPs’ expenses scandal emerged from the failure of Mrs Thatcher’s government to tackle MPs’ salaries, so the system by which she showered honours on editors and owners – a practice to which we put an end, with a rule that no serving editor could be honoured – means she too has something to answer for.
Whatever the past, it is Mr Cameron who must lead the country to a better place. Mr Miliband has shown himself capable of playing a good and principled part. And so should the public. Ultimately political debate will only improve if the public want it to, if they channel the anger at recent events into an assessment of what kind of papers they read, whether they really want to live on a diet of celebrity, trivia, negativity and abuse. To coin a phrase, we’re all in this together.
One of the best pieces you have ever written, Alastair. My only problem with it is why you were hired from a left-wing newspaper to defend Blair. But despite that – a well written, thoughtful and insightful read. Well done.
I agree with everything you said. The only problem is that you were brought in to to protect blair from the murdoch press (which you did very well) and since you did it it has got terrifically poisonous. I’m not blaming you, but as a former tabloid journalist you must have known what was going on
Also Alastair, what’s the point of having an online debate service when no-one can debate? It’s like the letters page in the mirror, your favourite paper. sod moderation, let it be like twitter, and let’s be able to be able to talk in real time, instead of your stupid “moderation” shit. or are you scared of what ppl might say?
Thing is Alistair, the Tories will take advantage of this situation, buddying up to the media when they most need a buddy and to really stitch labour up, don’t you think?
The media have got to stop saying ‘that the public didn’t mind the bugging & hacking of politicians & celebs which is why nothing was done about it a few years ago’. This is a complete insult to the public & very patronising. You cannot justify tapping or bugging anybody’s phone unless it is done legitimately by the police.
What really infuriates me is that when RB & Andy C admitted on camera in front of a parlimentary panel that they paid police for info, we the public were kept in the dark about it & no one (police nor politician) persued them! It’s an agront to our democracy & makes us look like complete hypocrites when lecturing other countries about their integrity. All credit to John Presscot for being man enough to stand up for himself & what’s right. The rest of you should be ashamed.
Also, surely Murdoch knew about all this hacking business? How could he not? Didn’t he ever wonder how details of certain stories were secured? Come on. Our parliamentary system is now full of people who do bugger all that is progressive or radical. They’re just full of soundbites. Maybe they’ll now feel free to say what they really think instead of tiptoeing around the media.
Is there still no one brave enough to call for him to be questioned? Is he above the law?
Blah blah blah you clown. Not only did you distort policy cosying up to Murdoch et al you distorted principle. Not amount of hand wringing will change that.
“Parts of Britain’s media remind me of the trade unions before Mrs Thatcher. They feel untouchable.” It’s ironic that the worst practises ~ Spanish practises, I think they were called ~ were carried out by the print unions which Murdoch broke by moving to Wapping and adopting new technology. Some of those practises really took the biscuit ~ with sometimes five people being hired to do the job of one person, staff being paid a supplementary amount just to turn up for work and overtime being paid during a normal working shift. It was good that Murdoch broke up that den of iniquity, but it’s all been downhill with him ever since.
The unions, print Wapping or cars Longbridge talked sense, let alone coal and Arthur Scargill. The nutters were the 1960s to 90s torys. Barking mad ex-colonials they were.
I thought Ed Miliband came across quite well on the Andrew Marr show yesterday. He sounds as if he may have been receiving some vocal training as he voice is deepening slightly imo.
The position he is taking towards the media is obviously the right one to take though not without risk of course. Obviously this is the heart of the problem, newspapers and the rest of the MSM should not be in a position to dictate to politicians but neither should politicians be able to dictate to the media. It’s a tricky issue and I can understand why quite a few well regarded journalists are becoming quite concerned about the possible loss of what they see as their freedom to report.
“Parts of Britain’s media remind me of the trade unions before Mrs Thatcher. They feel untouchable.” is really quite spot on.
This Wednesday’s vote will be a litmus test for the coalition. Clegg in the Indepedendent prattling on about ‘The pillars of the establishment are tumbling’ is interesting but – like so much comment on these matters – is looking backwards. Murdoch does not seem one for introspection and clearly is not on these shores for a retrospective of sins past or atonement for these heineous crimes.
Momentum for change could quickly be lost and replaced be the default of the media merely talking to and about itself.
Cross party support on Wednesday is key to finally thwarting Murdoch.
Phonegate, MPs´ expenses scandal and police corruption have shown that there is something fundamentally wrong.
We now need to put things right again. First step to healthy democracy is to prevent the takeover of BSkyB by a morally depraved company.
For three decades the Murdoch empire has ruled Britain by manipulation and bullying. But this is not tolerated any more.
The last thing in the name of media plurality and democracy to do now is to give absolute power to News Corp by allowing it to own BSkyB and destroy competitors by bundling its products in sales and advertising.
Political system is now freer and cleaner, so why return immediately back to old ways? Jeremy Hunt, please refer the bid to the Competition Commission or otherwise Mr Cameron will pay a heavy political price.
Ofcom can also at any stage use the “fit and proper” test. With James Murdoch probably to face criminal charges both in the UK and the US, the merger between News Corp and BSkyB must be stopped at any cost.
We do not need the values of the Murdoch empire any more. Instead of profits we need ethics. We need plurality, not monopoly. We need proper democracy.
And we need new laws on MEDIA OWNERSHIP.
We also need an inquiry into tax havens and offshore accounts used by News International.
Abuse of power must stop now!
BSkyB´s profits for the year to 30 June 2011 will be £970m! If we still want to read papers like the Guardian which exposed the Phonegate in ten years time, the Murdoch empire should not be allowed to own the whole of BSkyB.
Further revelations will decide whether News Corp is “fit and proper” to even own any shares in BSkyB…
Good piece that. Interesting comparison between parts of the media now and the trade unions in the 70s. Ultimately it’s a case of human nature taking effect. An organisation gets too powerful and then with that power they bring themselves down through a feeling of invincibility. Ultiamte power can ruthlessly corrupt, and you get the sense that News International think they effectively run this country.
Labour have finally ended their cosy relationship with them, and their uneagerness to take them on. Now it’s up to Cameron to climb out of bed with them. If BSky B takeover fails – and that’s all Murdoch cares about now – then his political reach in the UK is mostly restricted to the Sun newspaper and that will have a waning influence in the future.
I just knew it was Thatcher’s fault all along, I just hadn’t figured out how. Thanks for putting us right on that Mr Campbell. Of course, TB would have done something if it hadn’t been too difficult governing, winning elections and keeping the press onside. Quite understandable. And breathtaking.
The prevailing ideology of neo-liberalism – of which Thatcher was one vociferous and religious advocate – is responsible for a lot of current problems. Its continuing prevalence after the 2007/8 banking crisis – which was its logical culmination – ought to be a matter of serious public concern. Yet there was no comparable problem in writing off a couple of centuries of socialist thought when the Berlin wall came down. It’s difficult not to conclude that the human species must be flawed if it can’t come up with a better way of organising production, distribution and exchange than this wasteful, crisis-prone and fundamentally unfair system called capitalism. The trouble with you, Chris, or rather one of the troubles with you, is that you don’t know it was Thatcher’s fault all along. Sub-prime housing market, too many cars on the road, chaos on the railways and other public transport networks, NHS ever under threat, local government imploding, rich getting richer, poor getting poorer, power to the City whizz kids, death of manufacturing – just where were you in the 1980s?
You sound like a man who makes the right noises, long after the event and far from the time you had any influence to enact what you welcome now. Tough choices are something you seem happy to leave to others.
Cameron’s going to have a busy day, having heard that the cuts imposed on Councils and their SSDs are having the final result always forecast for Southern Cross plc (and doubtless many other service providers/ex-cash cows).
31,000 vulnerable people are in yet more danger.
It’s Cause and Effect Dave/George, you must surely have heard of it before.
Does the changing demand for news from producers and consumers play any part in this? Rolling news coverage on 24 hour television channels and instant updates on on-line versions of national newspapers surely make sensational headlines ever more likely for grabbing attention. If you are constantly at the forefront of any breaking news story, you win the competition for attention and, therefore, advertising revenue. You can’t legislate for that, just as protesting against dissembling and obfuscation by professional politicians gets us nowhere, but you have to accept there is a ravenous desire for gossip and that has to be catered for when contemplating what the problem is here.
As you say Alastair, the phone hacking scandal gives us an
unexpected opportunity for a new settlement between politics, the media and the
public. But sending wrongdoers to prison and improving press regulation (which
of course has to happen a.s.a.p.) won’t stop politicians being dependant on
media owners, editors and journalists to carry their message to the public.
Given the dominance of the right wing print media this is of particular concern to
those on the left of politics, leaving political leaders no
choice but to promote favourable relations with the press, with all the dangers
It seems to me that it is the absence of an alternative, impartial,
effective means of communication between politicians and public that has handed
so much power to the media. Even if we get rid of NI and cleanup other press
practices we will still be left with this problem.
Is it time we looked seriously at ways of ensuring the
public has access to arguments of all political persuasions, free from media manipulation?
The Parliament Channel makes an important contribution to our democracy because
it is free from journalistic comment. Maybe similar BBC air time could be given
to serious coverage of news conferences and debates on issues of political
interest? The emphasis has to be on allowing politicians to speak for
themselves and to question each other, with a view to informing the public,
rather than the main focus and power resting with a journalist or chairman, as is
always the case at present. BBC 3 and 4 are dormant all day and could be used
for this purpose or a portion of News 24 coverage could be allocated instead.
Perhaps we could also compel newspapers, as part of a
licensing arrangement, to provide daily column space to political parties to
submit their own take on topics of interest. Even Daily Fail readers would then
get a chance to understand why Gordon Brown can not be held responsible for
the worldwide financial crisis.
Nick Clegg makes himself look more ridiculous every time we see him. Today he pleaded with Rupert Murdoch to drop his attempts to buy all of BSkyB. Presumably this would avoid the need for the LibDems to show what their made of on Wednesday.
So your disquiet didn’t stop you troughing with Rebekah Brooks then, eh? And you kept your tongue when Murdoch was around too. What cojones! By the by; are you still on the Christmas card list of the flame haired one?
Twitter also suggested I follow this guy – no more likely than following @PiersMorgan:twitter – but this post is worth reading.
Interesting views from AC – I agree with most of what he says and his conclusion is spot on. However, I disagree with the statement: “No one can argue that we have the press we deserve.” Sadly we seem to have got precisely what we deserve.
Poor standards of education over too many years appear to have left the masses (including the complacent middle-classes) ill-equipped to deal with complex issues rationally – they seem to prefer title-tattle and emotive sound bites to articles of substance and nuanced debates. They want garish colours – when the most important issues tend to involve layers of grey.
All consumers have a responsibility for the mess we are in – how we choose to spend our money matters. We get the culture we deserve – and that is reflected in our press and in our political discourse. As AC rightly says: “Ultimately political debate will only improve if the public want it to, if they channel the anger at recent events into an assessment of what kind of papers they read, whether they really want to live on a diet of celebrity, trivia, negativity and abuse.”
Our collective reaction could be more important than any new regulations (which, if some politicians have their way, risk stifling important press freedoms). Perhaps we will, as a nation, aspire to a more mature, informed and sober style of debate – but, sadly, I doubt it.
Take a look at the scum that inhabit another Disqus / unmoderated forum (Torygraph’s) and a few here that might belong to it and ‘arrived’ this weekend and get real.
I don’t believe there’s actual censorship here whereas on many ‘un’moderated forums there is, post/delayed-moderation by ‘virtue’ of abuse of the Report button leading to banning of posters. Delingpole’s columns own the worst button-pushing culprits.
PS: Re mine of a few moments ago I also sometimes find the delays frustrating and the cause of confusion but I understand why this blog must not become like the cr*ppola ones elsewhere.
It’s a strange feeling to be accepting such ‘control’ but I do.
Okey doke; role play.
I’m employed at NoW and I have a target re how much of my work gets printed in order to earn bonus (on the subject of which I read today that the Wail’s Dacre is on £1.6m plus bonus, ye gods).
Anyway, back to my own challenges.
No matter the value of bonuses there are certain risks I’m not prepared to take myself and nor do I have the time, so I retain someone to hack phones for me.
He happens to be someone we’ve all been told we must never use again as he’s an ex-convict who’s been implicated in crimes as serious as attempted murder.
When that person hacks phones (whether those of missing children or the royal family) he has access not only to the message services of their owners but also their contact lists; named and tel:numbered.
When I claim the expenses to pay him for this valuable info I can’t name him as I’ve been warned to not use him.
Role play over; I’m not willing to believe the ‘news’ today about a protection officer, not when it’s from the same sickening hacking scumbags we’ve heard so much of this week.
I’ll believe it when it’s proved.
What I am prepared to speculate about is the abuse of expenses by NI employees who must have realised pdq how easy it was to get any claim okayed and paid by the faithless twerps that employed them.
Rebekah Brooks? She is allowed to cause a riot in my bed, the flame head beauty, I would, good and hard, her and Kristen Davis together – bugger blondes.
More welsh speak, Ryan Davies – hope I am going someway to replace him, but big shoes to fill he is,
It’s a game of chess mun, so calm down mun.
Even by Goebbels’ standard, this is really a watershed piece. I like the way he rounds up all the political parties, leaders & public into an “us” vs them (press) spirit. It’s a shame that he is unable or unwilling to use this same spirit when it comes to more important issues of state and society.
The problem I have is that I don’t remember the Tories or LibDems saying that they were going to review the the press behaviour or the PCC in their manifesto at the GE. So, is this yet ANOTHER matter where the Coalition govt. is acting without a mandate? But this time it is OK because the PM has to “do the right thing”?
But when this govt. tries to change the public service pensions, the NHS, university tuition fees (because as a country we cannot afford them) the schools (because our students don’t seem to be as good as others in other countries), it should not be allowed to do so because it doesn’t have the mandate to do so. And in those situations, it is all about party ideology and not about “the right thing to do”. Hmm.
I can quite easily see where this will end up. Everyone agrees that the PCC is about as useful as the appendix in the stomach. Great. So, what next? All the press moguls, Dacre, Desmond, Murdoch & others plus Liberty will be on the side that will cry “foul” at any & all attempts to have a PCC 2.0 (with teeth) & use freedom of speech/press as their shield. Invariably, something that looks good on paper but is completely impractical will take form. If it doesn’t, the govt. will be accused of…YES you guessed it…”Another U-Turn”. And so the opportunity to properly address another issue that really needs to be fixed will be lost. And like everything else, the noisy minority (as opposed to the silent majority) will rule. Sometimes I think it is really amazing how this country ever moves forward with all these minority groups holding sway. Or maybe, we’re still stuck in 1945?
Goebbels’ standards! Tidy – outstanding comment, my fella.
The mistake you make is to assume that those who you – like Richard Nixon before you, and many more since – call ‘the silent majority’ must all think the same and probably think the same as you. Have you asked them? Of course you haven’t. It’s just like the old Tory assumption that people who don’t vote at elections are in agreement with the status quo. Nicholas Ridley exemplified that perfectly when he tried to set up Housing Association Trusts in the 1980s – anyone who doesn’t vote must be in favour of them. What are the noisy minorities supposed to do – shut up? Should we all shut up and let some ‘benevolent despot’ sort us all out? Sorry Steve, but democracy is fundamentally about argument and disagreement. Let me throw in a quotation from W. H. Auden’s ‘The Unknown Citizen’, written a few months before the outbreak of war in 1939:
‘Was he free? Was he happy? The question is absurd:
Had anything be wrong, we should certainly have heard’.
It’s pretty stupid to compare anything you will see here with Goebbels and in fact it shows you don’t understand the enormity of his crimes.
When you exaggerate like that I imagine you with hoops and ringlets and in floods of tears.
Being someone that must have been as annoyed as hell to be outed as anti-Semitic as well as racist during ’09 I don’t suppose you’re being very surprising today.
The great unwashed will soon get used the sun on sunday, leaving the few who wash often with the task of trying to sort out the medium of reportage. It’s no wonder that the last attempt failed. Miserably.
I am looking forward to the next attempt. I think that the moral corruption in government, press and business is so enduring, that like the ozone layer, they been told that it’s there, but can’t actually see it.
By keeping the paywall in place at The Times/Sunday Times websites, NI are effectively silencing themselves on the internet.
Not a sensible way to take part in any debate with the online community that destroyed the NOTW last week.
This was far better than the pitiful, juvenile crap you’ve served up on this subject so far.
>>>Ultimately political debate will only improve if the public want it to, if they channel the anger at recent events into an assessment of what kind of papers they read, whether they really want to live on a diet of celebrity, trivia, negativity and abuse. To coin a phrase, we’re all in this together.<<<
I think we the public need to engage in far less silly, knee-jerk abuse of politicans also.
Our politicians just seem so timorous – they literally will do anything to avoid rocking the boat and it's led to a kind of stasis in government, where people just won't approach difficult issues (e.g. NHS).
the article above would indeed have been a good piece had it been written by someone else. i have a lot of respect for AC but that respect has grown since his New Labour work. having said that, he is absolutely right in what he says, and his courage / spin in challenging ‘the reader’ is indeed correct. but should we not be able to expect that certain standards are met by those given privileged positions? should the public always be in the position of not being able to trust large organisations that influence our lives? If so, what the hell do we have a government for? is AC advocating a Trotsky stance of perpetual revolution?
No. The public must be in the position of being able to trust those in which it places its trust. The failings of News International can too easily be placed at the doors of the readers … we reveled in its salacious, scandalous effluence. But we stupidly, it appears now, believed that such effluence was published legally, honourably, and without contradiction of codes of practice set out by those we elect – meaning, for us mortals – legally. It was not.
While we, the effluence-loving public, do indeed need with our conscience, those that we elect need to work more effectively in protecting the democratic rights of the people of the UK. It is fundementally those democratic rights that have been and continue to be eroded ar levels far beyond those that the media influenc.
This is a failure not on the part of the public, though we do need to consider our roll, it is a failure on the part of those in whom we have placed a significant degree of trust.
Far too much trust or far too little real democracy in the UK. I’m with the latter.
Wolf, Murdoch’s biographer, opined on
C4 News that there is probably no way out for him and this may be the genesis
of a NI – NC meltdown. But he is a
scrapper and there are probably too many in the present government that he can
still finger, and hope to shove things into the long grass of public
inattention and wait until it dies down.
there is the son James who seems to have the same ruthless genes as the father
and craves to succeed to his ‘birthright’. Patient vigilance will be essential to make sure the old beast really
has been mortally wounded and that the empire really is on the way to extinction. But as one empire wanes the next
waxes. Which is next?
The prospects for a carefully juvenilised British pop culture of tits, tattle and trivia becoming a nutritious seed bed any time soon for that ‘once
in a generation opportunity for a new settlement between politics, the media
and the public’ seems optimistic. But a Steve Coogan on Newsnight and Hugh Grant Question Time show that it is from
extra-political sources that leadership and inspiration can replace the tired
fearful old poltical classes that let
us down so badly for too long.
Good piece AC.
Paxo is on top form on Newsnight at the moment. I have always liked Paxo. Here he is with Boris and his sausages on the morning after the last GE, Paxo in fits because of Boris,
I’m posting the link to this satirical article on my facebook page…A.Campbell criticises press etc etc…They’ll think I’ve written it as a comedy monologue and I’ll get all the credit for it.
This is, as usual, a disgusting example of the sort of dunghill spin on which you made your name. It is beyond my comprehension that someone who spent his years in Cabinet pandering to the press, should even write this. Have you no conscience? Or do you reinvent truth as you go along?
if you have read every single comment above this one, you are an idiot.
The hacking story is now getting on my nerves, its MPs having revenge for the expenses scandal, its Labour revenge for the Sun going over to the Tories. The liberal left, the Guardian, the BBC just hate Mr Murdoch. The World Economy is heading for the toilet, and we are discussing in some instances stories from 13 years ago, and then it seems that there is some debate as to if the Brown story was gotten illegally. Lets move on, leave the Police and Courts to settle this and come back with there is a result, its getting boring fast.
As long as that new settlement starts with the CPS putting everyone involved on trial for criminal breaches of the DPA, the RIPA, the Bribery Act, and for perverting the course of justice in the Milly Dowler case, I’d be more than happy to seize it. We must not accept criminality on the part of police or press in some misguided spirit of détente – rather we must spend the time and the money to stamp out this behaviour as thoroughly as possible.
Since you ask, earning a very good living.
I think she had something to do with the NZ earthquake, famine in East Africa and the spread of tuberculosis as well.
I get the feeling that some right wingers have gone all needy-bonkers in the past week.
Oh whoopppee, another twerp that can’t see the difference between
recognising the media for what it is and understanding how to work with it for political ends (and there being absolutely no point in not doing so – see what the wonderful Ken Livingstone’s stance achieved for him)
and discovering that members of the public in dire situations and their dead children’s relationships have been raked over by people with no motive other than £££s and salacious gossip to be plastered in print.
Sorry Chris but that’s just a stupid comment. Glad though to hear you were earning a very good living in the 1980s – a lot of people weren’t – ex-miners, ex-steelworkers, etc.
(not) gotten (BLEUGH) illegally
We’re told the ‘Brown story’ came from a member of the public, that means what?
A member of staff at the hospital or Downing St? Aren’t they bound by a confidentiality clause in their terms of employment?
A member of the family?
What was their motivation?
Get real fgs about the ‘legality’ BUT it was NI that broadcast it in to the public domain without the permission of the weeks-old child’s guardians, with their not yet having had any time to absorb the situation themselves (that their newborn has a very limited lifespan ahead).
The Carlton Club types were the ones that felt untouchable then, off Mayfair somewhere, with their port and cigars post-dinner. They were living a past Empire dream, and were not facing up to reality, and used their bankers to buy and sell off Britain. Oh yes, don’t tell me different, will you?