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TIME TO HOLD THE MEDIA TO ACCOUNT by Paul Wragg

So the News of the World is no more.  The past few weeks have seen a daily outburst of fresh and abhorrent allegations of the extent to which News of the World reporters were prepared to plumb the depths of depravity to bring ‘scoops’ that only the most prurient and unashamedly inhumane reader would enjoy.  The news that investigators had not only hacked into the cell phone of Milly Dowler, tragically kidnapped and killed in 2002 on her way home from school, but that they had deleted some of her messages, cruelly giving false hope to her desperate parents and hampering the police investigation into her whereabouts sharply turned public opinion against the newspaper and proved a catalyst for, first, large multi-nationals withdrawing advertising from the paper and, finally, the decision, announced by James Rupert J. Murdoch yesterday, that the 168-year old paper, known latterly and prominently for its ‘kiss and tell’ exposes, would print its last edition on Sunday.

So for those of us with the wacky idea that newspapers should be about serious investigative journalism not tabloid tackiness is it time for dancing in the streets?  Probably not.  Only hours after Murdoch’s statement was transmitted, full of remorseful rhetoric, we discover that the domain name ‘thesunonsunday.co.uk’ has been registered.  Currently, Murdoch’s other shabby tabloid, The Sun, does not print on Sundays – the day when revelations of celebrity debauchery are normally splashed across the front page of the News of the World (one reason, some say, it was the UK’s most popular newspaper).  So the Murdoch clan’s public persona of shame, remorse and, most importantly, ignorance about the widespread scale of this contemptible practice already appears to be a thin façade.  The odious spirit of NOTW is not departed but set to be reborn in the Sun on Sunday (which is probably only the start).

Moreover, the News of the World closing does not end the controversy.  The question now is how deeply rooted this practice of phone-hacking is and other such practices, like the apparent ability of journalists to acquire the cell phone numbers of anyone they please.  What other dishonest practices do journalists get up to?  And what does this mean for the profession as a whole?  Journalists are quick to conceive themselves as archetypal ‘white knights’ who protect us proles from the insidious forces of evil by exposing wrongdoing.  Why have we let newspapers assume this power unchallenged?  Remember Meiklejohn and other heavyweights.  It is us, the people, who have ultimate power.  It is us, the people, who must demand our newspapers are as accountable as our politicians; accountable not to themselves but to us.  We need to break up the media monopoly that tycoons, for want of a better word, like Murdoch have established.  Murdoch’s BSkyB power grab is the most pressing concern and should not happen.  The atrocities of NoTW should be a wake-up call for us never mind the journalists and, for the Brits at least, that must mean holding journalists to account, starting with the Murdochs.

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