I was on the top deck of the number 201 bus to Stamford when I read on Twitter of the announced closure of the News of the World. I may be going over the top but it seemed like one of those key ‘news’ moments that you will always remember – an event of such profound significance that we will only understand it through the perspective of history.
Up until today News International seems to have been playing the classic media novice’s game of ‘close your eyes and hope it goes away’. To go from such a naive policy to such a comprehensive and newsworthy response is typical of the Murdoch approach.
And yet it remains to be seen just what this most dramatic of gestures achieves. News International is still the story, making, not breaking, news. And there will be many who wonder why the axe has fallen on many innocent employees while no one at the top has yet taken responsibility?
Fundamentally too, we have to hope that this isn’t the end of the story. If this one gesture closes the account then we have missed the point.
And it is a point that has been at the heart of debate for quite some time. Because the emotionally charged hacking story is the counter-part of the equally vociferously voiced media onslaught on the whole injunction regime. What we need to understand is the balance we want in our society between freedom and responsibility within our media.
The media chaffed – in some cases quite rightly – under the constraints of the injunction regime. But did they really do so because they were championing the freedom of the press? Or because their ability to commercially exploit salacious stories was curtailed. The ‘hacking’ scandal, suggests that commercial gain is the prevailing value of our national media – and not just the News of the World.
Liberty, said John Milton long ago, is the freedom to do what you ought to do. Licence is the freedom to do what you want without thought for the consequences. Where does the balance lie in our modern media?