News of the World demise changes everything and nothing

My trade union, the NUJ, has condemned the Murdoch empire’s closure of Britain’s longest running Sunday newspaper, the News of the World – the paper that died of shame.

Extracts from NUJ general secretary Michelle Stanistreet’s statement today…

“The shocking revelations this week show beyond doubt the systemic abuse and corruption at the top of the operation ran by both Rebekah Brooks and Andy Coulson. Yet News International has persistently lied about the extent of this scandal and tried to pass it off as a problem created by a couple of rogue reporters.”

“Closing the title and sacking over 200 staff in the UK and Ireland, and putting scores more freelances and casuals out of a job, is an act of utter cynical opportunism. Murdoch is clearly banking on this drawing a line under the scandal, removing an obstacle to the BskyB deal, and letting his senior executives off the hook. That simply won’t wash. It is not ordinary working journalists who have destroyed this paper’s credibility – it is the actions of Murdoch’s most senior people.”

“James Murdoch was absolutely right when he said in his statement today that ‘Wrongdoers turned a good newsroom bad.’ Yet those wrongdoers are still there today, at the top of the News International empire and ordinary staff at the paper are paying with their livelihoods.

That seems about right, though “ordinary working journalists” have certainly contributed to the culture of cynicism and loose ethics which afflicts Britain’s red-top press.

Closing the News of the World makes no commercial sense, and in this case politics factors more highly than money in Rupert and James Murdoch’s cost-benefit analysis. Rebekah Brooks is worth more to NewsCorp than any number of expendable hacks in Wapping, or the hurt feelings of those directly affected by the phone hacking scandal. Brooks is valuable as she is the conduit between NewsCorp and the prime minister. And NewsCorp has a pretty secure lease on the PM.

Multinational media corporations are fundamentally amoral entities. As are governments.

The political tectonic plates may be shifting within the UK, but one should never underestimate the political power of NewsCorp, and the Chipping Norton set to which Rebekah Brooks, Andy Coulson, and, by extension, David Cameron belong. This is Britain’s new ruling class: the final victory of the petite-bourgeoisie over the old-school Conservative Party. Brooks, Coulson and others of that clique are synonymous with Cameron’s cuddly new Conservatism, and the Murdoch family’s attempt to control all of BSkyB is but one political factor among many.

Andy Coulson has this morning had his collar felt, and is currently in discussions with Inspector Knacker. Coulson’s arrest is most likely the result of Metropolitan Police chiefs calculating that going on the offensive is better than being torn apart by their state masters as a result of alleged police corruption surrounding the phone hacking scandal. That said, an arrest will not necessarily lead to a prosecution; the act in itself has political value.

Will Cameron and his associates now wash their hands of NewsCorp and the Chipping Norton set? Not if they have any sense. Rupert Murdoch is a de facto member of the British government, just as he was during the previous Labour administration. But unlike those here today, gone tomorrow ministers who sit around the cabinet table and have to work for their supper, Rupert Murdoch cannot be sacked.

There are a number of interest groups here with a lot to lose should things go horribly pear-shaped, and they will look after their own. It is all frighteningly rational.