The power of the printed word?
I remember accompanying my mother on day trips to Dublin in the 1960s when I was a young boy, and being puzzled by a large billboard poster that used to be displayed somewhere around Palmerstown, or maybe near Heuston railway station (or Kingsbridge station, as it then was). The poster shouted in very large print: ‘All human life is there’ – and then it had the words ‘News of the World’. I had no idea that the News of the World was a newspaper, and so the purpose of this advertisement was a complete mystery to me. I thought it was saying that the world’s news contained all human life – a rather general (if true) statement, and hardly one that needed a billboard poster to make its case.
Well of course, the News of the World of the poster was a newspaper (I need no longer say ‘is’), and as we now know it did indeed contain all human life, very much including the low life. And as anger and dismay at what at least some of its journalists did gives way to thoughts about the wider implications, people are asking whether the News International stable of papers has given too much political power and influence to Rupert Murdoch. This isn’t an entirely new question – in 1992 Murdoch’s Sun claimed that it was the one ‘wot won it’ for John Major’s Tories in Britain – but as the spectacle of newspaper power gets held up alongside its corruption, the question has taken on a new urgency. And there are fears that this worry about corruption could be even more relevant if the Murdoch newspapers can work together with the most influential broadcaster in these islands (BSkyB), under the same ownership.
However, whatever the regulators or politicians may do, it is unlikely that this kind of concentrated media power will be sustainable for much longer. The decline of newspapers worldwide continues to gather pace, as people shift and get their news from the internet and its various outlets, including Twitter. Traditional broadcasting models are also coming under pressure – and BSkyB is still quite a traditional model. As almost anyone can publish a news site, or can broadcast whatever they like, with extreme ease, the media scene is changing fast, and it is unlikely that a Rupert Murdoch will, irrespective of current events and their consequences, be able to wield this kind of influence in future. And that must be a good thing.