A rollicking exposé of the beastliness of the Murdoch press

Jean Seaton reviews Hack Attack: How the Truth Caught Up with Rupert Murdoch, by Nick Davies for The Political Quarterly.

Rebekah Brooks is so innocent that she was given a grand new job running News Interna-tional. Andy Coulson had just the right exper-tise for Number 10. All those journalists who hacked phones, or used other people to hack phones, wholesale by the thousand, either knew nothing at all about it—poor dears—or were only doing their bit for journalism, mar-tyrs to their profession. Unexpected alliances have popped up through the media crossing ideological lines in a spectacular new way. Private Eye, the scourge of the press, now co-exists in comradely coalition with the Daily Mail. The Sun, the Telegraph, The Times, the Sunday Times and the Mirror are in agreement. The Spectator, Index on Censorship, Standpoint, so opposed on most things, stand united on an issue that is more decisive than mere ideo-logical difference. They all cosied up to repel dastardly enemies: because any attempt to ask why any journalists are doing anything, for what purposes and with what effects, ever, is government pre-censorship which will end hundreds of years of fearless report-ing. Perhaps ‘privacy’, as one News of the World feature writer observed, is for ‘pae-dophiles’? Or, as Kelvin MacKenzie famously said, ‘anything goes, nobody cares, nothing can stop us’. Nor is all of this just the froth of titillation. Surely no one will want to question whether News International can come back, as it surely will, to be allowed to own a bigger slice of the lucrative Sky business. So what was all that Leveson fuss about? Must have been one of those liberal conspiracies to abol-ish freedom.

As I run the Orwell Prize for political writ-ing (founded by The Political Quarterly’s own Sir Bernard Crick, generously supported by the journal), I have an interest to declare. For seven years of transformative growth it was also funded by the Media Standards Trust. The MST never interfered in the prize. But the MST was a player in the press story of the past decade, battling to understand the press, help good journalism thrive and bring evidence to bear on the argument. As the battle lines over the press became more fero-cious than any ideological commitment, the MST and its board was savagely attacked.

As I run the Orwell Prize for political writ-ing (founded by The Political Quarterly’s own Sir Bernard Crick, generously supported by the journal), I have an interest to declare. For seven years of transformative growth it was also funded by the Media Standards Trust. The MST never interfered in the prize. But the MST was a player in the press story of the past decade, battling to understand the press, help good journalism thrive and bring evidence to bear on the argument. As the battle lines over the press became more fero-cious than any ideological commitment, the MST and its board was savagely attacked.

We also had an inside seat on a small sideshow to the bigger ‘hacking’ story. The first Orwell Blogging Prize was awarded to articles about policing. The writer of the blogs, ‘NightJack’, was a serving policeman, Richard Horton. He entered anonymously and was tech-savvy and well protected (I had to track him down to make sure he was who he said he was; his winnings went to the Police Benevolent Fund). Horton was a dedicated, thoughtful copper, who could write. People were interested in the voice—it was shrewd, fair and dryly funny. The award made a big splash: there were pages in the Mail, Mirror, Guardian and Telegraph, and thousands went to read the blogs.

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Jean Seaton

About Jean Seaton

Jean Seaton is Professor of Media History and the Official Historian of the BBC. She will publish in the Autumn of 2014 the next volume of the Corporations story, Holding the Line: the BBC and the Nation, taking Lord Asa Briggs work forward for Profile Books. This involves everything the BBC did in a tumultuous decade from the conflict in Northern Ireland, to the invasion of the Falklands, to Not the Nine O'Clock News, the Proms, the early music revolution, devolution, Dennis Potter's greatest plays, Attenborough's revolutionary series Life on Earth, and Radio 1s most influential moment, as well as the role of women in the Corporation, programmes for children and a tense and complicated relationship with the government. The history was given privileged access to BBC archives, but also gained privileged access to state papers. For the first time the Corporation's history is seen in the round. It has depended on several hundred interviews, and explores both the programme making decision that go into the making of an iconic Television series like John le Carre's Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy, but also the high politics around the imposition of the broadcasting ban.

Details

Author
Jean Seaton
Date
8th July 2016
Research Area
Published By
The Political Quarterly
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