The last few days have been dark ones for the journalistic profession. A free press is supposed to be the lynchpin of democracy, but when the press engages in behaviour which, if committed by the government, would rightly be described as Orwellian, it fundamentally betrays that principle. Yesterday’s revelation that the News of the World was willing to eavesdrop on grieving families after one of Britain’s grimmest days reveals that there was no depth they were unwilling to sink to. How can people feel secure when the very organisations who are supposed to help protect them from abuses of power intrude on their privacy and grief should they have the misfortune to be involved in a heavily publicised crime or event?
And this is just what’s happening this side of the pond. Over in America, for the last few years Murdoch’s Fox News has effectively played Pravda to the Republican Party’s Soviet Union. Whether it is magically turning scandal-plagued/unpopular Republicans into Democrats, repeatedly lying about and smearing a Democratic President, or actively telling its employees to use words which are likely to have negative connotations in the minds of viewers to describe Democratic policies, Fox is not so much a news network as the media arm of the GOP – and that’s just the allegedly straight news parts. Sean Hannity, Bill O’Reilly, Brian Kilmeade, Chris Wallace and the now-departed Glenn Beck are in a league of their own when it comes to right-wing propaganda, as Charlie Brooker hilariously explains. The goal is to spread misinformation, fear and lies in order to manipulate the masses into supporting the same party Rupert Murdoch and Roger Ailes do…while sowing hate in the minds of their gullible and faithful viewers towards anyone who isn’t white, rich and conservative. During Watergate, John Dean spoke of a ‘cancer on the presidency’. Fox News is a cancer on America.
Meanwhile, while we do not have a Fox News-esque channel acting as cheerleader for a political party over here in the UK, we face something more ominous in the form of the imminent News Corp takeover of BSkyB, which unfortunately is likely to be green-lighted by the Government despite the snowballing hacking scandal. A media run solely by the state is something nobody in their right mind would want, but how is a media run virtually by only one man and his corporate empire any better? Yet that is a scenario we are increasingly faced with. Yes, they’ve pledged to sell Sky News, but there’s absolutely nothing to stop them buying it back once the takeover deal is secured. And given the Murdoch media’s complete disregard for things like ethics, morality and truth, if that takeover were to go through, we would have more to fear from our new media overlords than our government. And that is a truly terrifying thought.