Special Report: Scandal of the Scandalous

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Freedom of the media, freedom of expression. The world cries out. But in the light of the freedom of the press have we overlooked the freedom of individual and the right to privacy?

The scandal which rocked the U.K. media industry, opened a can of worms which no one expected. The phone hacking incidents were allegedly conducted by journalists from the British tabloid newspaper, the News of the World.

The biggest media mogul of our time Rupert Murdoch owns the newspaper. He and his News Corporation have come under intense attack.

Some say that Murdoch got a taste of his own medicine. After years of slinging mud at celebrities the tables have turned. Tabloids of the world are slinging mud at the News of the World.

Due to intense public and political pressure the newspaper has come to an abrupt end.

In order to save his media empire, the media mogul decided that its better to bury the paper, thus the News of the World was published for the last time on Sunday the 10th 2011. It ran without advertisements even though the newspaper announced that charities could advertise on it for free. Companies nor charities didnt want to be associated with a paper that had been caught in a scandal of its own making.

It’s sad to think that a newspaper which has been around for more than a century is being shut down and its 200 employees, (many of whom had no idea about the hacking) have lost their jobs.

It’s evident that the matter is of such grave nature that the Chairman of News International, James Murdoch who being Rupert Murdochs son wrote a letter to the employees, announcing the closure.

In that letter he wrote Wrongdoers turned a good newsroom bad and this was not understood or adequately pursued, Just as I acknowledge that we have made mistakes, I hope you and everyone inside and outside the company will acknowledge that we are doing our utmost to fix them, atone for them, and make sure they never happen again.

Alright, newspapers have done mistakes and blunders before. Journalists have been arrested. All this have happened before. But newspapers have not closed operations due to these reasons. Doesnt Rupert Murdoch know better? Maybe he knows more.

To better understand the whirl wind of events lets start at the beginning of the canned newspaper.

History of the newspaper

The newspaper was first published as The News of the World on 1 October 1843, in London by John Browne Bell. It was the cheapest newspaper of its time and was aimed directly at the newly literate working classes. It quickly established itself as a purveyor of titillation, shock and criminal news. Much of the source material came from coverage of vice prosecutions, including transcripts of police descriptions of alleged brothels, streetwalkers, and “immoral” women.

Before long, the News of the World established itself as the most widely read Sunday paper, with initial sales of around 12,000 copies a week.

Though a few thought it be a very fine paper, others thought it was a disgrace.

It was said that Frederick Greenwood, editor of the Pall Mall Gazette, met in his club one day Lord George Riddell (Riddell was in charge of marketing during the 1880s), who died a few years ago, and in the course of conversation Riddell said to him, “You know, I own a paper.” “Oh, do you?” said Greenwood, “what is it?” “It’s called the News of the World I’ll send you a copy,” replied Riddell, and in due course did so. Next time they met Riddell said, “Well Greenwood, what do you think of my paper?” “I looked at it,” replied Greenwood, “and then I put it in the waste-paper basket. And then I thought, ‘If I leave it there the cook may read it’ so I burned it!”

The newspaper concentrated on celebrity-based scoops and populist news. Its fondness for sex scandals gained it the nicknames “News of the Screws” and “Screws of the World”, While the paper ran the motto All human life is there, below its masthead.

Its sales average 2,812,005 copies per week. Thats a lot of screws that was read.

George Orwell summed up the attraction of the newspaper in the mid-20th century in his essay Decline of the English Murder.

It is Sunday afternoon, preferably before the war, he wrote. The wife is already asleep in the armchair, and the children have been sent out for a nice long walk. You put your feet up on the sofa, settle your spectacles on your nose, and open the News of the World. In these blissful circumstances, what is it that you want to read about? Naturally, about a murder.

The Murdoch Empire

Among the dozens of media brands owned by News Corp are movie studio 20th Century Fox, Fox TV – including American Idol – and the Asian Star channels. It has the titles the Wall Street Journal, the New York Post and 146 newspapers in Australia, and it also owns HarperCollins book publishers.

Rupert Murdoch bought News of the World in 1969 for 34 million ($54 million) after a year-long battle with Robert Maxwell, giving Mr. Murdoch his first foothold in the U.K. market. Being media mogul he was aware of the British publics love of scandals, which in his eyes were dollar signs.

Well this is not the only British Tabloid under Murdochs grip. The Sun, the Times and the Sunday Times in Britain are under his News Corporation Banner.

Peter Chippindale and Chris Horries history of The Sun newspaper, Stick It Up Your Punter, describes how the News of the World became Murdochs first foray into the British market.

When he made his initial offer for the money-losing title in 1968, he had to arrive at the home of owner Sir William Carr early because Carr was a drunkard and customarily unfit to do business after 10:30 a.m.

Having gained control, Murdoch plunged into every aspect of the business. He worked from a desk commandeered from a secretary, sneering at Sir Williams priceless antique furniture.

Well it has been scandal free for a while, until recently. The whistle on the papers innovative ways of obtaining scoops have been revealed.

Pandoras Box

It takes a while to get ones head around the whirl wind of events that lead to the closing. The sensational scoops that the company was famous for became its undoing, more like its Achilles Heel.

The more the investigation continues the more dirt is revealed. Like the Pandoras box, it spits out non stop evil.

Hacking Exclusives

The story which bought the Goliath tabloid to its knees and thus to its demise was the tiny story about Prince Williams knee injury in 2005.

It hardly rastonked with the newspapers string of blockbuster exposes over the years, but it tipped off royal officials that somebody was snooping, according to The Telegraph in London.

Clive Goodman, who was the tabloids royal correspondent, wrote a brief account of the fact that Prince William had sought medical advice for a strained tendon in his knee, The Telegraph reports. A week later, he revealed that the prince had borrowed some broadcasting equipment from journalist friend Tom Bradby.

This started ringing warning bells among royal officials, because only a few people knew about the two incidents. The prince and Bradby huddled over the matter and realized that the only way somebody could have known about the incidents was from tapping into voice mails they had left each other.

A police investigation led to Goodmans jailing in 2007, along with Glenn Mulcaire, a private detective the paper often used to ferret out background for exposes.

Andy Coulson, News of the World’s editor at the time, resigned from his post in 2007, saying he took responsibility for the hacking that occurred on his watch but stating that he didn’t know about it.

Since then, there have been five arrests in the renewed probe, including a veteran reporter who has been involved in some of the paper’s sauciest stories, such as an article he wrote about Max Mosley, then head of the governing body of Formula One racing, the Federation Internationale de l’Automobile.

The 2008 article reported that Mr. Mosley had a “sick Nazi orgy” with five prostitutes, who acted out a prisoner-guard-role-play wearing uniforms and speaking German, based on footage captured on film by a prostitute.

The public out cry which led to utter and complete public disgust, thus rocking the prime ministers chair was obviously the case of Milly Dowler.

Recent revelation emerged that Mulcaire had accessed the cellphone of Milly Dowler, a 13-year-old girl who went missing in 2002, and deleted messages, potentially impeding police. Dowlers body was found six months after she went missing.

Dowler was a shock, a further shock was revealed soon enough.

Mulcaire is accused of also accessing the phones of two other missing teenagers, victims of the 7/7 London bomb outrages of 2005, and even the families of service personnel killed in Afghanistan and Iraq.

This was the last straw. The paper had no choice, but to close.

Apparently the journalists have hacked more than 4,000 phones in the U.K. including that of a famous British actor Hugh Grant who referred to the incident as utter disgust.’

Phone hacking

How could this possibly have happened ?

Mobile phones used to come with a default four-digit Pin such as 1234, 0000 or 3333. Customers were expected to change their Pin, but very few did.

Tabloid journalists and private investigators could simply ring the number and if the caller didn’t answer, enter the default Pin and access the person’s messages.

If this practice had been done in India, the 2G Spectrum scandal might have been exposed much earlier.

Paparazzi

This hacking leaves a bad after taste in everyones mouth. Think about it, the newspaper was writing things which the public was interested but was it really in the interest of the public.

This weed called paparazzi was born thanks to our mad craze over the rich and famous.

Like striking oil, tabloid sales shot through the roof, peaking at seven million when Elvis appeared on the cover of the National Enquirer lying embalmed in his coffin. (It may have been the National Enquirer‘s extraordinary efforts to acquire that ‘photo’ that led to our current paparazzi frenzy)

The current paparazzi frenzy saw the tragic death of Princess Diana, which I ‘m sure many have not forgotten. The Princess was hounded to death by the paparazzi.

At that time people were outraged, they wanted an end to the paparazzi hounds, They wanted them sued. But did anything come out it than a super hit song from Elton John? Apparently not. If it did we would have not have seen such a mess.

Some people still are unable to understand how a mind of a paparazzi works. What are they motivated by?

Money! Which is the motivator for a man to carry a camera and drive at insane speed just to get a click at a celebrity, to obtain those rare compromising pictures. These are big money we are talking about and they are willing to risk their lives even to obtain it.

But in the case of News of the world, they were not Paparazzis, they were journalists. The type of people who in the past have been glorified for striving for the betterment of a society or nation.

So when did this ugly transformation take place ? The answer lies within the tabloids which they work.

Tabloid culture

The world has developed a fondness for news about the rich and famous. It has become what some may call human interest journalism. Do people really read this stuff, do they really want to know who did what and with whom?

“Tabloid” journalism (sounds like an oxymoron) in particular requires a constant supply of victims be they fallen rock stars, misbehaving footballers or errant MP’s.

Some journalists dont accept the fact these tabloid writers are called journalists. This is a shame to the institution of journalism a renowned journalist writes on Twitter the social micro blogging page. “These “scoop chasers” have no right to be called Journalists.” Which was agreed by many.

These people are being paid huge amount of money and perks, they seem to be churning the tabloid craze.

To obtain a better understand of this tabloid craze I decided to read some of the tabloids just to see what they are reporting. So decide to get the one I know some what about, Hollywood. It is like an addiction. I read from Britney Spears kids, to Lady Gagas outrages performance to Charlie Sheen’s custody battle and it just kept on going. Suddenly I realized that I could be caught in this fantasy bubble just as the other person.

When I looked at all the people who were buying the magazines, these are not your average run on the mill house wives, No! There were executives, teenagers, mothers, grandmothers, men, women of all colour and nationalities.

This made me realize that its an inbuilt thirst and greed to see mud slung at celebrities. Maybe its a small concession for our ego to think that they too are humans and they too have problems with love, marriage and fidelity just like the rest of us.

Survival of the fittest

Every tabloid journalist has a number of bylines and exclusives which they need to publish every year or by the next year, their beloved job would be gone. There are enough and more young graduates who are waiting to take their jobs in a heart beat. So being a cut throat industry they have to behave like a criminal to succeed.

Money, job security, big Christmas bonuses etc. maybe a great motivators, but in the long run is it enough.

Arabiangazette.com spoke to Maria (name changed to protect identity) a journalist at a tabloid in London, she said that the objective of tabloids is to make money, so it has to be done in any way or form and this is an accepted practice.

Passing the buck

The one thing that any scandal has is the aspect of passing the buck, searching for a scape goat.

In the case of the News of the World who is it that should be blamed? The journalists who churn out such mock that it makes us glued to it? Or is it the public, Whos insatiable appetite for gossip that drove them to this brink? Its more like the hen and the egg.

Well there is a lot of blame which is circulating. The scandal is getting hotter and hotter each day that the U.K. Prime Ministers hair seems to be fading in colour.

The scandal of the most scandalous would not stop until everyone who is involved be scandalized. It would drag out a few hiding politicians from the closet.

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