Nearly 168 years ago, News of the World launched itself to the British public with the pledge, "Our motto is the truth, our practice is fearless advocacy of the truth." However, the events we have witnessed in the last few weeks have been in total contradiction to this pledge and have marked the end of the paper, which published its final copy a few days ago.
In the world of journalism, where investigative methods are widely used, there have been guidelines applied by journalists, publications, and the British Press Complains Commissioner in order to prevent breaching the rights of privacy or acting illegally. However, what transpired over the last few weeks has changed the landscape of British journalism. What was first described by News International as the work of a few rogue reporters within its organization and was confirmed by the initial police investigation has now been discovered from the memos, recovered by the police this week, to indicate that the illegal activities were not confined to just a few individuals; rather it has emerged to be on a much broader scale. There have also been claims that police were bribed to get information in certain cases. This information, along with the phone hacking of leading politicians, celebrities, and possibly families of the armed forces serving in Afghanistan and Iraq as well as the families of missing persons, led to an unprecedented campaign against the paper by the public and politicians, leading to the closure of the paper by Rupert Murdoch.
What is to follow in the aftermath of the closure of the paper represents a deep scandal for the Conservative party within the British government as well as Mr. Murdoch's media empire. Some analysts hail this scandal as the beginning of the demise of Murdoch empire. His son James Murdoch, who is the deputy chief operating officer of News Corp, has possibly opened himself to criminal investigations on both sides of the Atlantic. In his statement, the admission of negligence and wrongdoing as well as authorization of payments as compensation, including secrecy clauses to close the file on the scandal in 2009, all indicate guilt on part of the organization. Furthermore, former editor and now Chief Executive of News International Rebekah Brooks admitted that "the worst is yet to come" in relation to this scandal. With what has already been highlighted in the public this week, especially in relation to the case of the murdered school girl Milly Dowler, it is surprising and depressing to hear words such as "the worst is yet to come."
Closure of the paper was perhaps inevitable given the negative publicity which it had generated from the scandal as well the fact that it had alienated numerous companies in relation to advertisements. Another reason stated in regards to the closure was damage control and to ensure the eight billion pound bid by Rupert Murdoch to the gain full control of BSkyB (British Sky Broadcasting Group), an entity which boasts more than 10 million subscribers and is the largest cable TV channel in the United Kingdom. Attaining full control of BSkyB would provide Murdoch with powerful resources to enhance his media empire.
Over the last 40 years, Rupert Murdoch has established himself as someone who is able to make or break political reputations, control electoral success, influence policies, and negotiate with establishments. The end product of all this is nothing but damaging the rights of citizens and a charade of dark arts. Freedom of the press and freedom of speech are cherished cornerstones of Western society. There is a threat to both concepts when the media is controlled by a handful of powerful personalities with known political agendas. This naturally leads to selective coverage of events as well as limiting or censuring certain events which may not be in line with the agenda set out by personalities within their organizations.
Overall, such a controlling method adds to the general ignorance among the public and can lead to increased friction in critical times. The public needs to reform in order to be open-minded, understand and accept different points of view, and be objective rather than subscribing to a set agenda in order to overcome such a controlling mechanism. We should also do a better job o of supporting independent and alternative media outlets so as to break corporate media's monopoly over information. From the side of the press and the journalists, the guidelines and the practice of ethical journalism have to be followed to guard against illegal activities and abuse of power. This should be enforced by the government as well as the regulatory bodies to prevent a repetition of these events. In terms of reporting, there must be a clear and objective method without any bias, agenda, or personal spin. If all of these basic principles are implemented, then the truth shall be recognized and be clear from falsehood.