• Rupert and the Rioters

    Rupert Murdoch and his News International have good reason to be grateful to the rioters. They were able to drop out of the headlines themselves, for a time at least, and to report on others making the news for a change.

    But their respite was short-lived. The apparently incontrovertible and growing evidence of cover-up and dishonesty has compounded the outrage felt at the phone-hacking revelations. They now find themselves – with the publication of Clive Goodman’s letter – back in centre stage.

    It is perhaps appropriate that they should share double billing at this point with the rioters. Perhaps the one issue is linked with the other? The search is on, after all, for an explanation of what may otherwise seem inexplicable – how could young people act with such an absence of any decent impulse? Without any thought for damage they were doing to the society in which they lived?

    The Prime Minister, no less, opines that parts of English society are “broken” and has declared a social “fightback”; but fighting back will be ineffective if the enemy remains unidentified. Punishing individual rioters may be necessary and unavoidable, but that in itself will do little to drill down into the real causes of social breakdown.

    At this point, step forward Rupert Murdoch and News international. Here, after all, are those who –through their power in the media – have arguably done more than any others to shape our society over recent decades.

    We now have a fairly accurate idea of the values and principles they have brought to that task – the evidence provided by what we now know about their own disreputable business practices. We know that they have little regard for legality or honesty, that they feel contempt for those they report on, and that they will use their power to threaten or cajole when challenged.

    They purport to hold up a mirror to society, to show people how they and others – their neighbours, their workmates – actually behave. But the mirror has been distorted. They have, in an effort to shock and titillate so as to sell more of their product, pushed back the boundaries of what is regarded as acceptable. They show, not what most people think or do, but what those at margins of society get up to – and the more outrageous the better.

    Underpinning this distortion of what is normal and responsible is the cult of celebrity. The constantly repeated and largely subliminal message is that, however despicable the behaviour, it is to be excused and even celebrated if the perpetrator is featured in the headlines. Celebrity cures all. Fame and money are all that matter.

    The result is that young people in particular are left without a moral compass. Sexuality is a commodity and selling agent. Money is the greatest desideratum, however it is acquired. Those who deserve to be admired and emulated are those whose success is measured by how much they have been able to grab, even – and especially – when it is at the expense of others. In all of this, the personal mantra of the News International proprietors is faithfully reflected.

    The Murdoch media have been major influences in creating a debased popular culture. The old social virtues of mutual support, helping one’s neighbour, have been supplanted. Little wonder that young people, with little life experience and nothing much by way of role-models to emulate or moral guidance to follow, have been especially susceptible to the message delivered to them unremittingly by the Murdoch media.

    There are of course other contenders to shoulder the major responsibility for social breakdown. Among the leading candidates would have to be the development in a recessionary climate of an economy in which unskilled labour no longer has a part to play.

    Give or take the odd millionaire’s daughter who popped up like manna from heaven for the headline writers, the young people who took their chance in the riots (manipulated no doubt by social media-savvy fomenters of trouble) saw no future for themselves because they knew they had been dismissed as worthless by the rest of society. They reasoned that grabbing what they could when the moment arrived was just the kind of behaviour that would be rewarded not just with material gain but with a brief and local celebrity.

    So, when David Cameron launches his fightback, why not look for starters at the role of Murdoch media which have been allowed – by exploiting their power with the benevolent connivance of successive governments – to exercise a disproportionate and malign influence on our young people?

    Bryan Gould

    18 August 2011

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