What’s most depressing is that I’m barely surprised…

After reading the latest chapter in the News of the World phone-hacking scandal…

Missing Milly Dowler’s voicemail was hacked by News of the World (Guardian)

… I jokingly remarked that at this rate it wouldn’t be long before a tabloid admitted to kidnapping Madeleine McCann, purely in order to generate a decent story on a slow news day. I’m starting to think my exaggeration wasn’t all that far off the mark.

Phone hacking: Soham families contacted by police (Guardian)

The thing is, some of us were already convinced that the News of the World is a nasty, cynical little rag, designed to exploit the most simplistic mob prejudices among its readership with the ultimate aim of filling Rupert Murdoch’s pockets as quickly as possible. But then we’re just politically correct Guardian-reading university types who scorn the Decent British Working Man, aren’t we? Even now, Murdoch isn’t above using a bit of clever PR to push public opinion in that direction, but I suspect it’s gone too far for that.

The vital detail is not that arty-farty Guardian types are outraged but that News of the World readers themselves SHOULD be outraged. They’ve been sold a lie, whipped up into a froth over the paedophiles on every street corner, the mucky private sexual habits of posh people and of course the supposed institutional negligence of social services. And all the while, the newspaper that informed their world view was spying on a missing schoolgirl.

The Sharon Shoesmith example is particularly apt as an indication of News International hypocrisy, as one blogger pointed out earlier. Rebekah Brooks may not have been aware of the illegal practices carried out by her deputies, but by her own standards, that’s no defence. Sharon Shoesmith was not aware of how social workers were dealing with the Baby P case, but Rebekah Brooks still saw fit to wage a hysterical campaign calling for her dismissal.

There’s more to it, though. The News International tabloids have been closely linked with British politics for years. Murdoch’s approval was a major weapon in the political arsenals of both Tony Blair and David Cameron. Thanks to the latter, Murdoch stands to gain an even tighter control of our media, with his takeover of BSkyB. This isn’t about a newspaper using dodgy journalistic practices… it’s about a cynical, hypocritical attitude at the core of our media and politics. Sure you want to pay for that Sky subscription?

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