This week the British press described one of its most famous tabloid newspapers, “The News of the World”, with one line which said: “the death of the newspaper of sex scandals”, but the story here is much bigger than the closure of a 168 year old newspaper of course.
The death of the “newspaper of scandals” also marked the end, or redefinition, of the relationship between politics and the media in Britain, which had been initiated by former British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher, in order to ensure press support in political battles. A friend of mine, an expert in British political history, said to me that the story is bigger than the closure of one of the newspapers in Rupert Murdoch’s media empire, which enabled him to play a significant political role; the story is actually the redefinition of the relationship between the media and politics. This view was endorsed by the British Prime Minister himself, the day before yesterday, when he said that party leaders in Britain overlooked the dangers of the media’s relationship with politics, because they were competing in order to win the support of the newspapers.
Of course, there are many lessons to be learned from the scandal surrounding a newspaper famed for scandals, which proceeded to spy on some four thousand people in Britain, from members of the royal family, to victims of crime, celebrities, and families of British Army casualties. The British press today is due a reexamination with regards to many of its standards, and is under great social pressure. There are demands to enact additional strict laws on the press, on top of the existing legislation. Britain is one of the strictest states in terms of its laws against the press, despite all the freedoms available there. However, tabloid newspapers always managed to twist the arms of politicians, especially publications including “The News of the World”, which always focused on sex scandals. This is contrary to the French press for example, which is committed to the principle that money is the real scandal, not sex.
With regards to the relationship between politics and the media, the lesson to be learned is that political control over the media may lead to a withholding of facts, but media control over politics may lead to corruption of all kinds. As my notable friend said to me, Britain today must redefine the relationship between politics and the media, so that the story of the newspaper of scandals doesn’t come to resemble Watergate in the United States. However it is clear today, as my friend told me, that the press is playing its role financially, while the politician seeks to convince public opinion by his interaction with the press, whether through dialogues, leaks and so on. This matter has been witnessed in American politics a lot; as the matter is more like an art form with conditions, than a system of checks and balances.
There are many lessons to be drawn from the story of the closure of the British newspaper of scandals, including of course, that it was a broadsheet British newspaper that exposed the News of the World. Thus it was interesting when “The Financial Times” wrote a report about the closure of “The News of the World”. It claimed that for those involved in the journalism industry, the news was stunning, like an assassination. However, the event was closer to the assassination of Osama bin Laden than the assassination of John F. Kennedy! Therefore sincere newspapers still remain more influential than others.