In a civilised society, we tend to associate the loss of a newspaper, the pressured shutting down of a media outlet, with some major corrosion of public or democratic values. We look upon the extinction of a paper for non-commercial reasons, whatever the paper’s reputation or sins, as a sad thing, normally the consequence of a tyrannical force stamping its boot and its authority over the upstarts of the media.
Yet yesterday’s loss of a newspaper has given rise, at best, to speculative analysis of what is going on inside News International, or at worst to expressions of schadenfreude and glee that the four million dimwits who liked reading phone-hacked stories about Wayne Rooney on a Sunday morning will no longer be at liberty to do so.
Many of those politically sensitive commentators who shake their heads in solemn fury upon hearing that a newspaper in a place like Belarus has closed down have barely been able to contain their excitement about the self-immolation of a tabloid here at home.
That a public institution can be dispensed with so swiftly, that a huge swathe of the British people can overnight be deprived of an institution they had a close relationship with, ought to be causing way more discomfort and concern than it is. How would we feel if other public institutions – the BBC, perhaps, or parliament – were likewise to disappear?
The influential anti-hacking, anti-News of the World campaign is not really motored by a true concern for journalistic integrity. More fundamentally it is underpinned by a cultural aversion to the outlook and the politics of the tabloid world. That is why so many politicians said yesterday evening that the closure of the News of the World is a good start but it doesn’t resolve the problematic “culture” of Murdoch’s low-rent titles.
You don’t have to have been a fan of the News of the World, still less of its recent indefensible antics, to recognise that the anti-Murdoch moral crusade is likely to have a chilling effect on the British media and on press freedom. British journalism is having its cojones removed. It is being “tidied up” under the threat of being subjected to a judicial review into press standards, a strengthened Press Complaints Commission, or exposure by a “liberal media” offended by tabloid culture. And these developments need more serious treatment than they have so far received.
Brendan O’Neill is editor of spiked. You can read his full article here.
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