Tuesday, 5 July 2011

Rebekah Brooks and Fitness to Lead

The phone hacking story is gathering momentum and events will no doubt have moved on in the brief time I sit and write this post. What's curious from the point of view of this blog is the way that Rebekah Brooks has sought to defend herself today. She's been silent (thus far) on the airwaves but did release a written statement which you can read in full here.

About three-quarters of the way through her statement, she seeks to define her tenure at News of the World in the following terms:

'I hope that you all realise it is inconceivable that I knew or worse, sanctioned these appalling allegations.

I am proud of the many successful newspaper campaigns at the Sun and the News of the World under my editorship.

In particular, the 10-year fight for Sarah's Law is especially personal to me.

The battle for better protection of children from paedophiles and better rights for the families and the victims of these crimes defined my editorships.'

I heard this with disbelief. During the period that Wade refers to, News of the World shamelessly fuelled a moral panic around paedophilia and inter-generational sex in the name of profits. Together with other tabloid papers (notably fellow Murdoch paper, The Sun - and which she also went on to edit) it sought to dominate the media with endless scare-mongering. It has been widely accepted to have linked to one incident in which vigilantes attacked the home of a hospital paediatrician after apparently confusing her professional title with the word 'paedophile'. Remind yourself of that story here.

That moral panic has continued to frame the debate around paedophilia, limiting policy development and hampering intellectual and academic exploration of the complex issues in this area. Few academics are brave to talk about this issue, and fewer still are willing to challenge accepted wisdom in the field thanks to campaigns such as the one run by Brooks and the News of the World. Such was the extreme nature of these fear feeding frenzies that Brass Eye satirised the media's treatment of this issue in 2001 - see that here.

That doesn't sound like something I'd want to highlight as my finest hour, or to define me as the sort of person I am. In fact, it seems to suggest someone who would exploit vulnerable people for their own profitable cause. Whether that applies explicitly to Brooks is for others to decide but her defence today, I would suggest, raises fresh questions about the ethics of media leaders.

What is clear however, is that it is a shameless mischaracterisation of history to now define that period of journalism as anything other than the shameless fuelling of a moral panic for commercial gain.

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Anonymous said...

NOTW have been invading our privacy for decades, and judging our bedroom lives in the name of "public interest".

I will never forgot their Page 3 girl printed next to an article shaming a high-school teacher for appear nude.

The extent to which NOTW has stoop to get some stories, is of no surprise. Hopefully heavy fines and law suits will follow.

I'm sure that if someone else was in their shoes, their front page would be uncompromising.

Chris Ashford said...

It's not just the NOTW of course (or so public allegations suggest anyway) and so this may yet have far and wide implications.

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