Monday, July 18, 2011

Will the phone hacking scandal make Britain any better?

Inbetween researching my family tree, I've been watching the news turn on itself over the last couple of weeks, with a mouting sense of liberal glee and schaudenfraude as the Murdoch empire collapses like a soggy souffle.

It's surprising to see how quickly the Murdoch house of cards has come tumbling down, but also kind of depressing that politicians have had to wait until a clearly awful scandal in order to start fighting back. Nobody could have seen that the abduction of a teenage girl would have had such far-reaching repercussions. Yet nobody who followed news and politics is surprised at the relevations about the amount of political influence that Murdoch and his friends have wielded since the 1980s - because it's been common knowledge. It is pathetic to see how successive governments have toadied around this descipable man, frightened of what would happen if they upset him. Particularly sad is how Gordon Brown had to swallow his feelings when The Sun published information about his son's cystic fibrosis, and then suck up to Rebekah Brooks afterwards. That is the real tragedy of this story - that us Brits have not lived in a properly functioning democracy for over 30 years. Instead, we've lived under a media kingmaker who has controlled politicians through fear. It is not surprising that Murdoch's newspapers have almost always supported the winner of every election since 1979.

I hope that the scandal ushers in a new era of media honesty, and that newspaper editors decide to stick to reporting the news, rather than manipulating readers. But I doubt it. Just as the bankers scandal appeared to change everything for a few weeks, before long it was business and bonuses as usual. Even if the Murdoch Empire is finally vanquished from British shores, there'll be plenty of slimy characters ready to fill his shoes, and politicians will continue to want to be represented in the best possible light in the media.

I have no sympathy for Rebekah Brooks - an intelligent, ambitious woman who panders to the lowest common denominator, whipping up moral panics over paeophiles as well as being homophobic. Yesterday, when she "presented herself" to be arrested, the news showed the few clips they have of her on a loop, which had the effect of making her look as if she was walking around London in a big circle, forever.

However, this is my favourite clip of the scandal so far - "dodgy geezer" Andy Hayman, who was in charge of the initial inquiry into the News of the World's phone hacking, and then went to work for News International as a columnist. Here he responds in an dramtic, bordering on camp, fashion to allegations that he received payment.

He's like a character in a 1970s sitcom. It would be called "Dodgy Geezer". He would drive a white van, work in a scrapyard, have an Irish sidekick called Chalkie, be married to a shrewish, constantly suspiscious Yootha Joyce and have Anita Dobson as his mistress. He'd pacify both women by giving them boxes of Black Magic of course and each episode would end with him being pursued up and down hills, Benny Hill-style by the whole town. But by the next episode, the "reset" button would be pressed. There'd be no character development, no change in anyone's situation. Just a laugh-track fading into a theme tune by Chas N Dave.

And here's my second favourite clip, whistle-blower Chris Bryant, asking for an apology from vile Kay Burley of Sky News. Every gay man needs a High Camp villain with whom to trade catty insults, and the interactions between Chris and Kay are deliciously E.F. Benson.

He'll get his apology from Kay when there are No More Dalmation Puppies left in Hell for her to turn into fur coats, but I'm glad he brought it up.

Chris is no stranger to media bullying, having had a picture of himself in only his underpants, which he naively posted on the hookup site gaydar, plastered all over the trashier media. But just like the Stephen Sondheim song: "good times, bad times, I've seen em' all, and I'm still here", he rode it out and is having the last laugh. I've seen the picture, and all I can say is, he has nothing to be ashamed of. Except his taste in underpants.

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