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If you lean leftish and read the Guardian you’re supposed to hate Rupert Murdoch. I can’t say I have particular feelings towards the man one way or another even although my contempt for the brand of capitalism he represents is marked. Otherwise not inhabiting the world he commands Murdoch is not on my radar.

What I do hate though is the junk news he has peddled for decades. The so called red-top newspapers in the UK are a cultural menace, a corrupting influence on the national psyche. Junk news is like junk food. It titillates the palate and has a compelling quality. If a red-top is in the room I will probably scan it through despite my disgust. It is the intellectual equivalent of a McDonald’s.

But I think to blame one guy for the junk is to exaggerate his power. There are many culprits not least consumers who gorge on the daily trash spewed out by the tabloids. I might read such a rag wearing protective irony but it is alarming how many people buy the red-tops and embrace their content meaningfully. Is that a genuine reflection of the mass mentality I wonder or is it like a bad diet where one knows it’s harmful but indulges anyway? The latter case is the less depressing being fixable. The former, the stupidity of the mass, is more problematic.

Aside the intellectual poisoning another good reason to disapprove of Murdoch is his supposed political muscle. Why has he been allowed to cast such a long shadow? Andrew Neil in his memoir called him the Sun King referring to the effect he has on those around him. For employees to feel that way might be understandable but grown-up politicians, really? All because he owns some newspapers? Whatever the reason, if Murdoch’s influence is so pervasive it needs to be curbed. Any individual or institution with such a disproportionate pull should be cut to size.

I can only hope that the events of the past few weeks will have that effect on News International. There is something curiously provident that it was Milly Dowler who tripped them up. There was a strong revulsion to the discovery that her phone had been hacked when she was missing feared dead. A moral line had been crossed there.

Of course the extent of the hacking comes as no surprise. The junk journalists are always over the line anyway. And the idea that the bosses don’t know it is laughable. There is a sense of comeuppance about the whole business. That they hadn’t been stopped before now was a serious omission. The “last chance saloon” was many miles back.

The NI honchos including the Sun King himself appear in front of a committee of MPs tomorrow supposedly to be grilled. I hope the inquisitors don’t miss the chance to make a little rain. I may not care much about Murdoch personally but we would be no worse off with him less powerful. I do care however about the pollutants that are the red-top newspapers. If every one of them was abolished overnight society would be a better place as a consequence.

written prior to Rupert Murdoch's appearance before

British MPs to answer for the phone hacking revelations



commentary • 18.07.11