News Corp and the BBC: a tale of two scandals

Saville, phone hacking, and business as usual.

End of play yesterday saw two major media organisations, News Corp and the BBC, standing at very different points in their own separate scandals. The BBC, reeling from the force of public outrage at the Saville affair, revealed plans to air as many items of its dirty laundry as possible, with the heads of two separate Saville inquiries announced at once. Near-simultaneously, Murdoch made a bold show of consolidating his position post-hackgate with a confident performance at News Corp’s AGM. 

The worry here is that we’re seeing the manual for running a post-Leveson media business being written, and that in its later chapters said manual doesn’t differ wildly from the one that’s been in use for the past decade. 

The BBC now finds itself past the chapter entitled "how to buy time and deny everything" and is currently floundering somewhere in the middle of "self-flagellation- a practical guide". 

Institutional corruption is high on the middle-Englander’s agenda and the BBC is responding accordingly. Leveson, with its "lol" moments and cast of panto villains, has led to hitherto-unseen levels of mass distrust in the media and its cliques. Consequently, tabloid coverage of the Saville affair has focused less on the gory details of the alleged abuse than it might once have done, and more on the culture which supposedly made such abuse possible. 

For instance, The Daily Mail’s 28th September story, which centred around an exclusive preview of the "explosive" ITV documentary, briefly detailed "shocking testimonies" from "four women" allegedly abused by the star. We then had to look significantly further down to find any lurid accounts of the abuse. First, in what might be seen as an early warning shot in the full-scale bombardment the corporation is now weathering, we read an implied attack on the BBC’s role in Saville’s actions:

“The documentary also features damning contributions from former BBC production staff who reveal that the star’s predatory behaviour with girls as young as 12 was an open secret.”

The majority of media coverage has followed suit, and an optimist might almost be encouraged. At first glance, it looks as though Leveson has raised the level of public debate. Where once coverage of the Saville scandal might have been completely dominated by sickening accounts of sexual aggression, now we see (alongside a few requisite horror stories) scrutiny of an organisation which allegedly allowed that aggression to happen.

News Corp’s AGM, however, complicates this. Murdoch’s empire has, of course, come under its fair share of attack and, just as they likely will at the BBC, plenty of high profile figures have faced a tarring and feathering. Yet yesterday saw Murdoch back to fine swaggering form. Dominic Rushe perhaps summed it up best- following Julie Tanner of the Christian Brothers Investment Service’s complaints of insufficient change in News Corp’s corporate governance, he quoted Murdoch’s response:

@rupertmurdoch "It's not that we don't keep these matters under consideration". (ie it's just we don't give a hoot). #NewsCorp

There’ll be more to come from News Corp over the coming months, but it’s looking disturbingly as though nothing has changed at the highest levels- the very top of the organisation has ridden out the PR furore in relative calm. If this is the case, it presents a disappointing picture of Leveson’s effect on those with power in the media. If public consciousness has only been raised to the level which demands quick and visible scapegoating but leaves less tangible figures untouched, then media businesses under pressure need only endure a period of token chaos before moving on to the final chapter- "returning to business as usual".

Rupert Murdoch. Photograph: Getty Images

Josh Lowe is a freelance journalist and communications consultant. Follow him on Twitter @jeyylowe.

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Let's seize our chance of a progressive alliance in Richmond - or we'll all be losers

Labour MPs have been brave to talk about standing aside. 

Earlier this week something quite remarkable happened. Three Labour MPs, from across the party’s political spectrum, came together to urge their party to consider not fielding a candidate in the Richmond Park by-election. In the face of a powerful central party machine, it was extremely brave of them to do what was, until very recently, almost unthinkable: suggest that people vote for a party that wasn’t their own.
Just after the piece from Lisa Nandy, Clive Lewis and Jonathan Reynolds was published, I headed down to the Richmond Park constituency to meet local Green members. It felt like a big moment – an opportunity to be part of something truly ground-breaking – and we had a healthy discussion about the options on the table. Rightly, the decision about whether to stand in elections is always down to local parties, and ultimately the sense from the local members present was that it would be difficult  not to field a candidate unless Labour did the same. Sadly, even as we spoke, the Labour party hierarchy was busily pouring cold water on the idea of working together to beat the Conservatives. The old politics dies hard - and it will not die unless and until all parties are prepared to balance local priorities with the bigger picture.
A pact of any kind would not simply be about some parties standing down or aside. It would be about us all, collectively, standing together and stepping forward in a united bid to be better than what is currently on offer. And it would be a chance to show that building trust now, not just banking it for the future, can cement a better deal for local residents. There could be reciprocal commitments for local elections, for example, creating further opportunities for progressive voices to come to the fore.
While we’ve been debating the merits of this progressive pact in public, the Conservatives and Ukip have, quietly, formed an alliance of their own around Zac Goldsmith. In this regressive alliance, the right is rallying around a candidate who voted to pull Britain out of Europe against the wishes of his constituency, a man who shocked many by running a divisive and nasty campaign to be mayor of London. There’s a sad irony in the fact it’s the voices of division that are proving so effective at advancing their shared goals, while proponents of co-operation cannot get off the starting line.
Leadership is as much about listening as anything else. What I heard on Wednesday was a local party that is passionate about talking to people and sharing what the Greens have to offer. They are proud members of our party for a reason – because they know we stand for something unique, and they have high hopes of winning local elections in the area.  No doubt the leaders of the other progressive parties are hearing the same.
Forming a progressive alliance would be the start of something big. At the core of any such agreement must be a commitment to electoral reform - and breaking open politics for good. No longer could parties choose to listen only to a handful of swing voters in key constituencies, to the exclusion of everyone else. Not many people enjoy talking about the voting system – for most, it’s boring – but as people increasingly clamour for more power in their hands, this could really have been a moment to seize.
Time is running out to select a genuine "unity" candidate through an open primary process. I admit that the most likely alternative - uniting behind a Liberal Democrat candidate in Richmond Park - doesn’t sit easily with me, especially after their role in the vindictive Coalition government.  But politics is about making difficult choices at the right moment, and this is one I wanted to actively explore, because the situation we’re in is just so dire. There is a difference between the Conservatives and the Lib Dems. Failing to realise that plays into the hands of Theresa May more than anyone else.
And, to be frank, I'm deeply worried. Just look at one very specific, very local issue and you’ll perhaps understand where I'm coming from. It’s the state of the NHS in Brighton and Hove – it’s a system that’s been so cut up by marketisation and so woefully underfunded that it’s at breaking point. Our hospital is in special measures, six GP surgeries have shut down and private firms have been operating ambulances without a license. Just imagine what that health service will look like in ten years, with a Conservative party still in charge after beating a divided left at another general election.
And then there is Brexit. We’re hurtling down a very dangerous road – which could see us out of the EU, with closed borders and an economy in tatters. It’s my belief that a vote for a non-Brexiteer in Richmond Park would be a hammer blow to Conservatives at a time when they’re trying to remould the country in their own image after a narrow win for the Leave side in the referendum.
The Green party will fight a passionate and organised campaign in Richmond Park – I was blown away by the commitment of members, and I know they’ll be hitting the ground running this weekend. On the ballot on 1 December there will only be one party saying no to new runways, rejecting nuclear weapons and nuclear power and proposing a radical overhaul of our politics and democracy. I’ll go to the constituency to campaign because we are a fundamentally unique party – saying things that others refuse to say – but I won’t pretend that I don’t wish we could have done things differently.

I believe that moments like this don’t come along very often – but they require the will of all parties involved to realise their potential. Ultimately, until other leaders of progressive parties face the electoral facts, we are all losers, no matter who wins in Richmond Park.


Caroline Lucas is the MP for Brighton Pavilion.