The past few months saw Britain consumed by an incident, which ignited hundreds of debates and opened doors to arguments that were once sealed shut. The sheer speed in which the News of the World newspaper came tumbling down was shocking to say the least. After 168 years of providing its readers with scandal after scandal and making it its prerogative to pry into the lives of every public figure it could get its hands on, News of the World ended its run with a headline that simply read; "THANK YOU & GOODBYE". In an ironic twist of fate the tabloid went down with the same grandiose publicity that it once prosecuted its subjects with.
Rupert Murdoch, media baron and Chairman of News Corporation along with the Editor in Chief of News of the World Rebekah Brooks were accused of using illegal means to obtain information, mainly by hacking private citizens’ phones and bribing police officers. In true Machiavellian logic, when it came to a scoop News of the World justified all means. Indeed it is just a local Sunday paper that closed down but its demise sent shockwaves all around the journalistic world. For once the British parliament seemed to agree on an issue, calling for law amendments and prosecution of those involved in these invasions of privacy. Newspapers all over the world ran editorials on the incident, some condemning the paper's actions, preaching about ethics in journalism and insisting on drawing clearer lines to stop journalists from infringing on people's rights. Others sided with News of the World pointing out that what was committed was not a crime but in fact true investigative journalism, whereby the job entails retrieval of information as fast as possible by any means possible.
Now that News of the World closed down and its two hundred employees safely relocated to another Murdoch-owned enterprise, the dust is slowly settling on this journalistic whirlwind and the eyes are slowly beginning to experience clarity. We might even begin to see that Murdoch, Brooks and the News of the World journalists are not the only ones who should be scrutinised and condemned. After all, this tabloid has had the highest readership in Britain until the day it closed its doors. According to the National Readership Survey, News of the World secured 13.8 percent of the entire British market exceeding all other Sunday papers. And while every other paper in the UK is suffering with regards to revenue News of the World’s projections continuously showed profits.
If we believe the numbers then the ones who should stand trial along with Murdoch and Brooks are the readers. Yes, the readers. A product could not survive without a market, someone had to supply to the relentless demands for gossip and that is exactly what News of the World did. It catered to people's insatiable appetite with a buffet of scandalous revelations that while made for a great feast, ruined people's lives in the process. The reason why tabloids still make profits while respectable journalism struggles to make ends meet is you, the reader. When you would rather read about a politician's torrid love affair rather than his active role in governmental policy, you become a particle in the force pushing papers like News of the World over the lines of ethics and human rights. People have an innate curiosity for the affairs of others and this curiosity is never satisfied. Readers don’t want to know how a tabloid gets its information they just want it. Once a piece of salacious news enters the bloodstream more is needed to maintain that initial high but how do you get more? By eavesdropping? Sticking ones head in someone’s mailbox? Going through their trash? Phone hacking is the tip of the tabloid iceberg and readers know it, yet they choose to cast a blind eye for the sake of satisfying their addiction to gossip. If Murdoch is guilty of the charges against him then News of the World readers should be guilty for aiding and abetting them.
News of the World won many British Press Awards one of which was for ‘Newspaper of the Year’ in 2005. The public fed the fire that was raging in the newsroom and encouraged them to go forward, for with 7.5 million readers and a shelf stacked with awards News of the World’s formula could not have been wrong, or could it?
When News of the World’s web of lies and deceit detangled its loyal readers abandoned it. Shocked at the scandal they gawked and pointed fingers at the paper that once was their sole means of news (according to Enders Analysis, the closure of News of the World will see two-thirds of its readers never picking up another Sunday paper again). In the end, the user blamed the dealer when in fact both were as much a part of the scandal as the other.
As everyone stood aside opportunity presented itself to the politicians, they pounced at the chance to get back at this paper that has heckled them for years exposing their lies and costing many their positions. And so News of the World was to be made an example of, British journalism will no longer be above the law and with that the free press around the world gasped in unison feeling the hammering of one more nail in its coffin.
This article was published in The Gulf Today newspaper on 7th August, 2011.