A tale of two red tops…

10 07 2011

It has taken a ‘Wapping’ big story, of the dark forces behind Britain’s biggest newspaper, to banish a Harry Potter premiere to the inside pages, as well as blasting the final launch of space shuttle Atlantis off the front page, not to mention the ‘Duke and Duchess of Hazard’ (oops – sorry Cambridge!), cowgirl Kate and cowboy ‘Wills’, donning their Stetsons to start a stampede over in Calgary, and even Princess Charlene‘s forlorn, eve of wedding, attempt to emulate Julia Roberts, as the ‘runaway bride’, and escape Prince of the paternity test, Albert II of Monaco. Why didn’t she just swim for it?    

All of these newsworthy events have been totally overshadowed by a phone hacking scandal and escalating political controversy, already being dubbed by the Independent Newspaper as Britain’s Watergate!

It reads like the script of a Hollywood blockbuster. ‘A Tale of Two Red Tops’ – a story of the demise of a British institution, an 168 year old best-selling tabloid newspaper, and the survival, against all odds, (at least so far) of its flame haired former editor!

A convoluted script is emerging of widespread irregularities within the press, illegal payments to police, and successive governments who turned a blind eye for fear of losing the support of an influential newspaper empire.

It includes a cast of thousands: a multi – millionaire media mogul, prime ministers and members of parliament, a newspaper editor turned government communications chief, private investigators, senior police figures in ‘the met’, movie stars, sports celebs, and last but not least ordinary people, who never auditioned for a part but got one anyway.    

Today the final edition (8.674) of the News of the World (I’m afraid it will always be the ‘News of the Screws’ to me) rolled off the presses, a bumper issue with the headline ‘Thank You & Goodbye’ – a celebration of ‘The world’s greatest newspaper 1843-2011’ and a ‘sad but very proud farewell’, that in effect sticks two fingers up to Rupert Murdoch, who has ruthlessly and cynically axed the most profitable paper in his News International empire, because the brand has become too toxic.     

In so doing he has sacrificed the jobs of 200 workers, innocent of any wrong doing, but has remained determinedly loyal to Rebekah Brooks, CEO of the News International group and a former editor of the NOTW (& the Sun) during a period when phone hacking was allegedly rife.

Murdoch’s actions are totally self-serving. His number one aim is to retain credibility as a ‘fit and proper person’ to take over BSkyB. However if he considers by removing, what he has described as the ‘rotten apple’, from his News International barrel it will improve the chances of his taking over full ownership of the corporation, I would suggest he is way off the mark.  

Also, he has long favoured the idea of extending his best-selling daily paper, the Sun, to a seven days a week publication. Out of adversity he has been quick to recognise a perfect opportunity. Once the dust settles, expect to see the Sunday Sun launched, to a fanfare of trumpets – the NotW in all but name.         

The Independent on Sunday, in its own ‘mock up’ of the NotW’s final front page, carries a picture of Brooks, looking for all the world like the wicked witch of the west, and the headline, ‘Is This The Most Hated Woman In Britain?’

That may be the case, but we know she is also a constituent, close friend and neighbour of ‘call me Dave’ – one of the Oxfordshire set!

The PM nearly choked on his words, at Friday’s press conference, when pressed, that if he were Murdoch he would have accepted Rebekah’s resignation. However he would not admit to any error of judgement with regard to the much publicised ‘second chance’ given to Andy Coulson who he personally appointed as head of government communications, and who has now been arrested (& subsequently released on bail until October) with regard to his further involvement in both phone hacking and illegal payments for police information, during his time as NotW editor!    

Some might say DC is to be commended for his loyalty to a former colleague, he considers a ‘friend’, while others, such as Lord Ashdown, consider it was folly for him to make such a risky appointment in the light of the concerns expressed by many around him at the time – particularly Lib Dem coalition partners.   

The PM is being taken to the cleaners at the moment, by an Ed Miliband who has found his voice and grown in stature as leader of the opposition, during the last week. He has set an agenda, which DC has been reluctantly forced to accept, with regard to an independent judiciary enquiry into events at NotW and a review of the ‘toothless’ Press Complaints Commission as a self-regulatory body.

Ed who unlike his Labour predecessors, Blair and Brown, has no real ‘previous’ with regard to cosying up to Murdoch, is successfully taking the moral high ground against a Conservative PM who was backed all the way to Number 10 by the Aussie newspaper tycoon, and is now forcefully pressing for DC to pull the plug on Murdoch’s application, for full ownership of BSkyB, until the current police investigation has been concluded.

‘Call me Dave’ would do well to pay heed and ‘see the bigger picture’, for if it comes to a Commons vote he might well be embarrassed.

Finally, what of the NotW? I’ve never been a regular reader but a staggering 7.5 million people a week have. For many a weekly fix of the top selling red top has been a guilty pleasure, choosing to slip it behind something a little more cerebral and respectable before leaving the paper shop, rather like me today – pure snobbery I admit!

Today’s final bow, not only reprises the many hugely worthwhile causes championed by the paper, investigative journalism of the highest order (often overlooked amongst the sex scandals and celebrity gossip with which it is more readily associated) but contains a facsimile of the very first edition from 1st October 1943, which spells out a mission statement that has endured to the present day and which quite simply has been the bed rock of its success.

“The general utility of all classes is the idea with which the paper-originated. To give to the poorer classes of society a paper that would suit their means, and to the middle, as well as the rich, a journal, which from its immense circulation should command their attention, have been the influencing motives that have caused the appearance of the ‘THE NEWS OF THE WORLD’.”  

It has certainly commanded attention across all social barriers and in every walk of life, often said to have been equally widely read in the country mansion as the local pub.  

I remember, a couple of years ago, a conversation with number two daughter, ’Gem’ – a fully paid up member of the NUJ, about what her preferred papers were.

I was not surprised, given her tendency to the left (it must be in the genes) that ‘the Guardian’ should be her daily paper of choice, but was somewhat surprised that on Sunday, ‘the Observer’, her ‘serious paper’, was always accompanied by the ‘NotW’!  

I must have looked surprised. But her reasoning was simple, it’s fun, easy to read, but very well written – it has some top quality journalists. She made her point very well, that it is actually much more difficult to write ‘good copy’ for a tabloid than a  broadsheet.   

Interestingly, I have heard it said several times this week, from widely differing sources, that many of our most talented, respected and scrupulous ‘hacks’ work(ed) at the NotW. Unfortunately, they will wake up tomorrow morning without a job, thanks to the despicable behaviour of a few, notably, further up the food chain, who under increasing pressure to pursue scoop after scoop stooped beyond the line of acceptability, and the callous self-serving response of an owner with no sentiment whatever for the traditions of a paper (love it or hate it) that has rightly earned its place at the heart of British journalism.

The NotW deserves to be remembered for what it has achieved over a century and a half and the role that it has played in the lives of millions of the great British public across those years, not the recent misdemeanours, no matter how despicably shocking, of a few.

The last word (lifted from today’s final edition) rests with one of our greatest authors, written in 1946 by George Orwell:

“IT is Sunday afternoon….The wife is in the armchair, and the children have been sent out for a nice long walk. You put your feet up on the sofa, settle your spectacles on your nose and open the News of the World”    

Sadly no more…  






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