Australian Lefty on Politics, Governance, Science and Info Management

Right penalty for the wrong crime

Posted by Dave Bath on 2011-07-16

In true tabloid form, and putting another black mark on modern society’s good sense and probity, the Murdoch empire is copping a well-deserved, indeed too light, punishment, but because of the trivial and limited offences, not the heinous acts of the group that are harming the world as a whole.

It was the hacking (and destruction of evidence) of the phone of a teenage girl who had disappeared (and later discovered murdered) that finally got things moving against Murdoch’s empire in the UK.

It will be the hacking of phones of the World Trade Centre attack victims that will probably get things moving in the US.

These are hardly the most serious of the obvious illegal acts – the bribing of police is a greater crime against the functioning of a society, so the general public is damned by being galvanized by the pure tabloid headline offence, that only affecting individuals, rather than being concerned about corruption that eats away at civil society for all.

The greater crime against civilization committed by the Murdoch empire is hardly causing pain to Murdoch at all.  This damns the public even more, who have had the opportunity, through the sum of individual actions, to hurt Murdoch’s methods – not just used by Murdoch, but any media magnate.

Consider the corruption of the political process – the offers of support or threats of attack to manipulate politicians into particular policies to advance Murdoch’s empire – the unscrutinized, unpublished determination of public policy by first decisions within a company, and then backroom muggings of politicians who are too gutless to stand up and make those muggings known to the public.

It’s like a kind of sadomasochism, the politicians accepting repeated torture by press barons, and perhaps because of this, predisposed to pass on similar pain to those under the thumb of politicians, the general public.

But yet worse is the effect of the headlines that intentionally lead the public to incorrect positions on high policy issues with global impact.

  • The war-mongering, unsupported by fact, enabled wars causing massive direct and indirect harm to thousands, hundreds of thousands, of individuals.
  • The scary headlines caused massive changes in civil freedoms – undoing basic things like the rights of habeas corpus, and enabled a surveillance state to be created, powers that would give Joseph Stalin a wet dream.
  • The utter misrepresentation of data, especially in the domain of scientific consensus generally, and climate change in particular, something that is massively threatening the stability of civilization as well as the probable anguish of billions if the misrepresentation holds sway.

I’m glad this draft sat unpublished for a day, because meanwhile, a perfect example of what most of the press pushes on the public, with a vicious circle through focus groups then politicians and back to the press and public, came up from Business Pundit (2011-07-14):

11 Dumb Scandals vs Actual Important Issues.

Why stop at 11?

And why doesn’t the public emulate the Liverpudlians who almost as an entire city, turned from a Murdoch tabloid?  (See "Scousers never buy the Sun" by Skepticlawyer 2011-07-15).

What makes the piece especially interesting is Billy Bragg’s awareness that the whole Murdoch blow-up not only reflects badly on media and politicians, but also on us, the (fairly) willing consumers of this kind of prurient crap.

Is this yet another example of market failure?

Now, skepticlawyer is a faithful disciple of pro-free-market philosophers, so when the wisdom of consumer crowds (indeed, the consumer crowds’ integrity) is questioned from such a source, we should take notice.  (SL, btw, is always a worthy read, and though we are known to have our respectful disagreements on the site, we have very friendly off-line conversations: she is NOT an Andrew Bolt or Gerard Henderson)

Politicians, the Murdoch pundits, or their unthinking majority audience – the whole darn lot, should ‘fess up and say, "The fault, dear brutes, is not in our The Stars, but in ourselves".


  • Pretty much every rag names "The Star", Murdoch-owned or not, is indeed a rag – but the Murdoch press are the most widespread and frequent offenders, and perhaps those claiming not to be tabloids, claiming to be journals-of-record, through distortion, commit the most heinous crimes.
  • "Confession time at News Ltd" – Gary Sauer-Thompson (2011-07-15)
  • Cheryl Kernot, former Democrat leader, makes a couple of telling points and confessions in "Too cosy here too?" – ABC Unleashed (2011-07-14)

    And yes, that includes politicians in Australia who have been, and currently are, in thrall to the power of media proprietors and shock jocks; seeking to court support, in the belief that a newspaper’s endorsement is one of the powerful keys to election success. The trade-off is timidity in the face of a newspaper’s "policy line".

    The Press Council is limited to print media. Nightly television programs masquerading as news and current affairs with their increasingly tabloid behaviour are also in need of heightened scrutiny and accountability. This is territory where many journalists are not formally required to subscribe to a code of ethics; where stalking, ambush, pursuit and cheque-book journalism are common.

  • "What hope is there for us if America is driven to the brink of meltdown?" The Guardian, (2011-07-16) points out that Murdoch’s Fox and the like have a heavy hand in any US government default in the next few days – and in my opinion, the Australian and The Sun have caused huge damage to our economy over the last decade or so.


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