Phone-hacking scandal in the UK: ‘We’ve all been in this together’

by Postwoman

Murdoch, NewsCorp, the News of the World… were definitely last week’s most-read and commented topics because of the phone-hacking scandal that goes back to 2005 and has recently brought the corrosive relationship between political, economic and media power in the UK to the public eye, as expressed frankly in Cameron’s words: ‘The truth is, we’ve all been in this together’.

So here is my suggested good reads to hear some insightful ideas about this case and its link to media policy. For beginners, I’d highly recommend to check ProPublica’s guide and the news blog of the Guardian, which actually played a terrific role of investigative journalism in this case to reveal a compelling story and stir a debate.

For me, the best review that analyzes the details of Murdoch’s decision to shut down the News of the World as well as bringing a wider perspective about the British media system comes from Des Freedman of Goldsmiths who shared his thoughts as a guest blogger on LSE Media Policy Project’s website

On a different level, for Paul Mason, this scandal is yet another example of ‘the network defeats the hierarchy’. In other words, what challenges the political/economic power of Murdoch that has manifested itself in manufacturing consent so far, i.e. a theory by Herman & Chomsky that sees the mass media as a propaganda machine which works through the empowering, and symbiotic, relationship between corporate and political elites, was not only the investigative journalism but also the impact of social media. The dictator-toppling power of Twitter has now made ‘multifaceted media empires flammable’. Although I’d love to share Mason’s optimism about the power of networks as opposed to Murdoch’s political economic influence, I think it is early to claim a victory.

To challenge his argument further, I’d highly recommend Amelia Arsenault & Manuel Castells’ article from 2008, Switching Power: Rupert Murdoch and the Global Business of Media Politics, which argues that ‘the ability to control connection points between different networks is a critical source of power in contemporary society’ using Murdoch as the main example. In other words, let’s keep a watchful eye on the guy who knows how to master the capacity of networks as he may have a big comeback soon.

John Kampfner, the chief executive of Index on Censorship, points out the need to start a debate that focuses on what kind of media the Brits would like to have that would ‘help foster a new journalism as a fearless and painstaking challenge to authority, one that makes mistakes, oversteps the mark, irritates and offends, but that is fully accountable for its actions. In the United States, the debate about media regulation is, most of the time, focused on whether there is a need for it or not. However, the content of regulation that enables or constraints the media owners, professionals as well as the citizens’ capacity for a better-functioning democracy is what matters and Kampfner, using international examples, tries to show how different policies may produce different journalistic practices.

Hence, I think LSE’s Damien Tambini takes the debate to a fruitful level by emphasizing how the process of (new) media regulation should be as he says, ‘We got in this mess because of a perception, amongst sections of the press of impunity among journalists and of subservience among politicians. The balance needs to be re-struck, but not by Parliament, nor by the executive. With the police, politicians and the judges each facing their own legitimacy challenges, it is essential that civil society – and the wider public – have a say in this process’.

I’m glad that this debate is moving beyond a specific case and provokes a discussion about challenging the current media system as well as demanding a better one while -hopefully- drawing more people into the idea that ‘a genuinely free media is incompatible with one which exists to serve shareholders more than the public’.