Editorial from the Socialist issue 817
Coulson conviction: Cameron should go!
After ‘cash for questions’ and MPs claiming ‘expenses’ for extravagant living, the on-going exposure of the links between the top politicians and the Murdoch empire is a scandal too many. While cosying up to the Murdoch empire in their mutual interests and those of other big businesses, Tory Prime Minister David Cameron has led the driving down of living standards for the rest of us, inflicting unrelenting austerity.
Cameron and Osborne and their whole rotten government should get out of office and call a general election. They can then be consigned to the dustbin of history by all those suffering at the hands of their cuts onslaught and disgusted by their corrupt behaviour.
Cameron’s blind eye to phone hacking criminality was obvious over years. In 2007 he employed Andy Coulson as his communications chief just months after Coulson admitted to having “overall responsibility” for phone hacking and quit as News of the World editor. The evidence already in existence against Coulson and the normal vetting procedures were brushed aside in Cameron’s haste to work with him.
Then four years later, when in 2011 Coulson resigned from Cameron’s top team because of more hacking revelations, Cameron maintained his support, saying he was “very sorry” that his friend and protégé had felt “compelled” to resign because of the pressure he was under.
Now however, Cameron has been effusing sorrow of different nature – to save his own skin after a jury finally convicted Coulson of conspiracy to hack voicemails.
Wealth of Murdoch
This was possibly the highest cost trial in British legal history. The criminal acts in Murdoch’s News International have cost the taxpayer £33 million in police investigations and trial expenses. So rich is Murdoch’s empire however that it has so far spent around double that huge sum – an estimated £60 million – on defence. This certainly hasn’t broken Murdoch’s bank, as his wealth is massive and escalating. Before phone hacking first surfaced his companies’ shares had a combined value of $48 billion. Now, their value is $85 billion.
This wealth was used to throw every possible argument and confusion against the prosecution in the trial, helping to ensure that multimillionaire Rebekah Brooks, News of the World editor prior to Coulson, was acquitted. The hacking of murdered teenager Milly Dowler’s phone was done while Brooks was editor. During the trial she said she didn’t know hacking was illegal – but she still brazenly denied responsibility for it. Guardian journalist Nick Davies has reminded us that in 2003 Brooks even admitted that her journalists had acted illegally by paying police for information.
This information wasn’t put before the jury because it would have broken parliamentary privilege rules, having been part of evidence given to the parliamentary media select committee. Much other information was withheld from the jury or unavailable for one reason or another, including the hard drive from Brook’s computer when she had been editor, which was ‘lost’.
Nevertheless, the best legal team that money could buy was not able to let Coulson off the hook, such was the “industrial scale” of the hacking and the particularly damning level of the evidence against him.
This trial was a ‘show-down’ between a layer of rich celebrities and politicians who were outraged at being targets of the hackers, and Murdoch’s News International (now News UK), though ordinary people were also caught up in it – those who had suffered some aspect of their lives being exploited by the tabloids. The hackers left a trail of destroyed marriages, fragile mental health and other trauma on their victims. Critics of News International and those on the political left were particularly targeted.
Murdoch’s papers saw themselves as above the law, controlling parliamentary politicians and other influential people, who were bowing down subserviently in order to receive favourable media coverage. At the end of June Labour MP Tom Watson commented: “Murdoch just got too powerful. He owned much of Britain’s media estate. He still does. But it’s politicians who gave Murdoch his power. And I’m sorry to say, I don’t see much changing. They’re still queuing up to take a bow, albeit less obsequiously than before”.
Those Murdoch-friendly politicians include past and present leaders of Watson’s own party. Tony Blair is a godparent to one of Murdoch’s children. When Milly Dowler’s phone was hacked he offered help to Rebekah Brooks rather than the Dowler family. Ed Miliband earned the disgust of workers in Liverpool and beyond last month when he was pictured promoting a copy of the detested Murdoch newspaper, the Sun.
Murdoch and other media barons nurtured a huge web of links between themselves, the politicians of the main capitalist parties and the tops of the police. Among those who resigned over revelations of accepting favours from Murdoch’s machine and ‘mishandling’ the phone hacking allegations were the Commissioner and Assistant Commissioner of the London Met police.
Of course the government is in league with big business generally, not just the media multinationals, but the Tories have found particular common cause with Murdoch because of his virulent right-wing, anti-working class, anti-trade union stance. This was recognised by Brook’s lawyers when they unsuccessfully tried to ban trade union members from the hacking trial jury, wary of potential hostility.
Tom Watson is right, in that despite the Leveson inquiry and now this hacking trial, not much is changing. Leveson’s recommendation of independent media regulation was met by howls of outrage from the media barons, who made sure it didn’t pass first base.
The Socialist Party was among those who warned about such regulation from an entirely different point of view. Those who ‘regulate’ were not going to be ‘independent’ of pro-capitalist interests; and their regulations could potentially be used to hamper left-wing newspapers and trade unions from finding out important information and exposing super-exploitation, tax evasion, and other scandals.
Moreover, they would only be able to tinker, faced with the wealth and domination of the media industry. The power to choose what to print and broadcast would fundamentally rest with the owners of the media corporations – in the main a small, super-rich elite, who serve their own interests and those of capitalism, which are closely intertwined.
So the road to ending the media’s lies, discrimination, intrusions and criminality lies not so much in new regulations and anti-privacy laws – phone hacking is illegal in any case – but in developing an entirely different type of media that would be under democratic working class and popular ownership and control.
The main printing and broadcasting facilities should be nationalised, to be made available for all strands of opinion to be heard and discussed and for good quality journalism to have the means of flourishing.
The revenue of the Sun and other papers and websites that promote their rich owners’ personal views and bigotry will plummet when mass production alternatives are on offer that reflect the interests, culture and democratically decided boundaries of the overwhelming majority in society.