So, The News of the World has been destroyed, with the final edition of the 168-year-old paper released today. The sewer standard revelations of the hacking scandal, with the promise of worse to come, meant there was no coming back. The popular metaphor for the event seems to be the destruction of the Death Star and, in a way, it was a ragtag, rebel alliance of left and right in Britain joining forces against Rupert Murdoch’s Evil Empire that did the trick. They finally saw an opportunity and plucked up the courage to take on a common enemy that has been distorting and debasing social and political debate in Britain for decades.
The Guardian, in particular, flew doggedly on through hostile fire until it found that all-important exhaust port. But just how far can we stretch this metaphor? As it turns out, even further. When the first Death Star was destroyed in A New Hope that wasn’t the end of the story. We all know what happens next: the empire strikes back. News Corporation is an organisation that contains some of the most squalid, ruthless scumbags on the planet. They are not simply going to go away. They are going to fight back. When Rebekah Brooks said it would end ‘With Alan Rusbridger on his knees, begging for mercy,’ she undoubtedly believed precisely that.
So even with this one victory, our little rebel alliance can’t just sit back and watch the Evil Empire unravel. It needs to keep the pressure on. There needs to be a constant drip of new revelations. There should be continual pressure put on companies, making them think twice about advertising with this increasingly toxic brand. There should be close scrutiny of politicians, the police, and the regulator, OFCOM, to make sure that all inquiries are carried out swiftly and thoroughly. The momentum must be maintained. There is a real possibility that, if properly facilitated, the contagion can spread through the whole organisation.
News Corp has many tentacles, and not so many years ago a problem in one territory could have been contained as a local problem. This is no longer the case in a world of instant communication through email, blogs, Twitter, Facebook, and so on. Already I’ve seen on Twitter increased grumbling from US users about Rupert Murdoch’s influence in their media, after seeing what happened in the UK. Then there’s Renault, who have become the first company to suspend advertising with News International in general. Meanwhile, in Canada, their politicians are keeping Fox News out by maintaining a law banning broadcasters from lying.
The Tories, of course, have a problem of contagion too. Ed Miliband squarely rounded on Murdoch and aims to scupper his BSkyB takeover, whilst Vince Cable ‘declared war’ on him months ago. But the Tory leadership is down in the sewer, looking for the nearest manhole. David Cameron is a close friend of Andy Coulson and Rebekah Brooks. His judgment in employing the former, and supporting the latter, was hopeless. But even if David Cameron is done for, the waning of Murdoch’s power will be good for politicians in the long run. No politician should be scared of saying or doing what he or she thinks is right because of what a media baron expects.
With signs that the process of contagion is underway, and with other media organisations, politicians, regulators, and the police becoming bolder in their investigations, the Murdochs now have their work cut out turn back the tide. They face multiple inquiries, criminal investigations, fit and proper person tests, consumer boycotts, advertisers taking flight, social media campaigns, and general bad feeling from most quarters. These are resourceful baddies though; so don’t write them off yet. Still, even if the Empire doesn’t fall, let’s hope that History can record this as the moment when Britain chased the Murdochs out of town with sticks, if not light sabres.