Goodbye News of the Screws

So goodbye after 168 years to the News of the World.  No more Sunday gossip, scandal, sleaze and racy stories?  It wasn’t called the News of the Screws for nothing.  I doubt if we”ll notice much difference.  Firstly, we’ll still have the Sunday Mirror and the People.  And Murdoch isn’t about to surrender a huge chunk of the Sunday tabloid market to them, so expect a Sun on Sunday launch really soon.

Most of my friends and colleagues are rather snooty about British tabloids.  But I grew up with them. My mother was (and still is) a Mirror reader and my grandmother took the Express. I discovered the Guardian and the Times in Mountain Ash Library but only read “broadsheets” on a regular basis when I arrived at Bristol University.  It was also then that I started reading the Sun most days and secretly enjoyed it.  Since it’s shed its nasty streak of homophobia I enjoy its punchy style even more.  But I’ve never liked the News of the World, which always found a new depth to which to sink. It was often sanctimonious but had page after page of stories revolving around sex.

I may have bashed one of the many nails into the NoW’s coffin this morning in the Commons when I raised the issue of Government spending on advertising in the paper.  I pointed out to Sir George Young, Leader of the House, that private businesses were pulling their adverts, shouldn’t the Government do the same?  George said that he would ask ministers to look at this “urgently”.   Now I rather suspect that Sunday’s final edition will be devoid of any advertising, apart from sex chat lines perhaps.

I suspect Murdoch’s decision was commercial, rather than remorse at the appalling series of phone hacking revelations.   The owners of British media outlets are supposed to be “fit and proper” persons in order to operate TV and radio stations. The real money now is in broadcasting, not print.  So the NoW has probably been sacrificed in order to smooth the path to full ownership of BSkyB.   I hope this ploy fails.  It’s not because I think Murdoch is bad for the media – the Times is my favourite paper.  But we should not allow one media mogul to have so much influence over national opinion.  Particularly someone who is not (and never has been) a British citizen, nor a payer of personal taxes in our country.  America does not allow this and nor should we.

It’s been a bad week for British tabloids.  The Attorney General was in court on Tuesday prosecuting the Mirror and the Sun for their terrible treatment of Chris Jefferies while he was under arrest, suspected of the murder of Joanna Yeates.  I have known Chris for many years and he has helped me in all my general election campaigns. The way his reputation was trashed was horrendous.  Chris was innocent.  I hope there are stiff sentences for those who jeopardised his right to a fair trial.

What of politics?   Party leaders have courted editors for more than the long life of the News of the World.   But the homage paid at the court of king Rupert by Blair, Brown and Cameron (I don’t think my boss got the chance) has debased all of them.  The media pretty well trashed the reputation of MPs before the last election.  Now the media is having to swallow some of its own poison.  Both need to rebuild their reputations.

The relationship between politics and journalism is crucial for democracy.  If they’re too close then the public loses as scrutiny is blunted.  But if one side is more powerful then abuse happens.  MPs are usually too scared to criticise journalists, especially a monopoly local newspaper or radio station.  This week Parliament has stood up to the fourth estate and we should be grateful to Labour MPs Chris Bryant and Tom Watson and to my colleague Simon Hughes for sticking with their long and lonely campaign.  Maybe politics and the press will be in a better place as a result of their efforts.

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