Friday, 8 July 2011

Farewell, News of the World

And good riddance?

Unfortunately not. Of course the NOTW is not being closed down. How ridiculous.

There will still be a News International, sensationalist, bottom feeding, soft porn Sunday newspaper. It just won't be called the News of the World.

Today, David Cameron (British PM) said that what had happened was "illegal, unacceptable, despicable and disgusting"

I think, to be fair, he knew that months ago when News International were trying desperately to contain the damage. But everyone hoped that the wronged celebs could be paid to keep quiet and that the problem would go away.

If you're wondering what this is all about, then the current hot news in the UK is that one of Britain's oldest, most popular and least respected Sunday newspapers is closing with a week's notice because of a scandal involving the behaviour of its own reporters. A 168 year run brought to an abrupt end.

To be fair, the paper's reporters have always employed questionable techniques. Over the years, they have used methods such as secret filming, entrapment and impersonating various officials to extract 'dirt' from celebrities and public figures. They have brought countless careers to an abrupt end.

And all in the name of the "public interest"

Oh, the public are interested all right, that's why people buy the newspaper. But is it in the public interest? We would argue not.

Let's look at what happened.

Earlier this year, it came to light that NOTW journalists were 'hacking' into celebrities' mobile phone voicemail services. The concept is easy; you can call a number to retrieve your own messages from any other phone. All you need is a PIN. In the old days, you didn't even need a PIN unless you had set one up. But now you can only access it if you have already created a PIN. For years, gutter journalists have bribed mobile phone call centre operators to pass on the details of phones owned by celebrities.

So you have the number, all you need to do is guess the PIN. And with an autodialler, it's relatively easy to stage a 'brute force attack', trying every PIN until you hit the right one.

Once you have the PIN, you just keep dialling in, listening to the messages and hoping to pick up some juicy gossip.

But what if the voicemail has no PIN? Ah... well... it turns out that most of the mobile phone companies will allow you to access your voicemail from your own phone without a PIN. So you'd just need to pick-pocket the celeb's phone, right?

Wrong. You just use a 'spoofing' service that enables you to make one phone look like another. As long as you promise to be sensible and not use it for any illegal purpose.

Mind you, while you're in, you might as well set up a PIN, then you can access the voicemail from anywhere.

When this first came to light, the NOTW blamed one reporter, who didn't even work for them, he was a freelancer, and he's very naughty, and we had no idea he was doing it and now we've fired him to show what a fine, upstanding and respectable media business we are.

The celebrities involved were paid damages and the whole thing was swept under the carpet, along with all of the other questionable reporting practices at the newspaper.

Over 3,000 victims have been discovered to date. I think that shows that this is not an isolated incident.

The newspaper's owners and editors of course condone and are fully aware of what goes on. Rupert Murdoch's son was on TV, saying how awful it was and that they knew nothing about it. So they don't read their own newspapers? This is like the moment on Pier's Morgan's chat show with David Hasslehoff when he claimed to know nothing about the Daily Mirrors' publication of a photo of David Hasslehoff in a drunken, alcoholic haze. He was he editor at the time, and knew nothing about it?

Media such as the NOTW view celebrities as public property. We made you famous, so now we own you. However, some celebrities don't agree, and in particular, Richard E Grant, would not allow the matter to be forgotten.

The police were in a difficult situation. They largely turn a blind eye to the activities of reporters, in fact there are also allegations of reporters bribing police. Well, doesn't almost every TV drama feature a reporter who gets information from a police source? Didn't the police and reporters all drink in the same pubs? They each regard each other as a necessary evil.

The problem is that the celebrities involved would not shut up, and sooner or later, the police have to accept the fact that they are allowing a criminal act to go widely publicised yet unchallenged. The editor said sorry, so that's OK.

To cap it all, one of the phones that the single, lone wolf, rogue journalist hacked into was that of Milly Dowler, the British girl who was abducted and murdered a few years ago. What were they hoping to find? Evidence to pass to the police? Of course not.

Now the police are involved, everyone's coming out of the woodwork to say how awful it all is. The British PM, Rupert Murdoch's son.

It turns out that the 'rogue reporter' story has been spun too many times. Now the NOTW's editor, Andy Coulson, is being questioned by police, possibly even arrested.

The bottom line is that the NOTW, its editors and all of its staff had a good run. They got away with as much as they could for as long as they could. They stepped over the line countless times, and one time too many.

But what difference will this make?

Will it block News International's bid for BSkyB? Of course not. The activities of a few rogue individuals can't possibly bring the credibility of a global business into question.

Will it mean proper regulation of the media? There is talk of replacing the Press Complaints Commission with a better regulator. Of course not. Society is much bigger than one industry.

Will it mean that the media conducts itself more honourably?

Don't be ridiculous. The media just gives people what they want.

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