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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Meet Anne Marie Waters - the Ukip politician too extreme for Nigel Farage

In January 2016, Waters launched Pegida UK with former EDL frontman Steven Yaxley-Lennon (aka Tommy Robinson). 

There are few people in British political life who can be attacked from the left by Nigel Farage. Yet that is where Anne Marie Waters has found herself. And by the end of September she could well be the new leader of Ukip, a party almost synonymous with its beer-swilling, chain-smoking former leader.

Waters’s political journey is a curious one. She started out on the political left, but like Oswald Mosley before her, has since veered dramatically to the right. That, however, is where the similarities end. Waters is Irish, agnostic, a lesbian and a self-proclaimed feminist.

But it is her politics – rather than who she is – that have caused a stir among Ukip’s old guard. Former leader Paul Nuttall has said that her views make him “uncomfortable” while Farage has claimed Ukip is “finished” if, under her leadership, it becomes an anti-Islam party.

In her rhetoric, Waters echoes groups such as the English Defence League (EDL) and Britain First. She has called Islam “evil” and her leadership manifesto claims that the religion has turned Britain into a “fearful and censorious society”. Waters wants the banning of the burqa, the closure of all sharia councils and a temporary freeze on all immigration.

She started life in Dublin before moving to Germany in her teens to work as an au pair. Waters also lived in the Netherlands before returning to Britain to study journalism at Nottingham Trent University, graduating in 2003. She subsequently gained a second degree in law. It was then, she says, that she first learnt about Islam, which she claims treats women “like absolute dirt”. Now 39, Waters is a full-time campaigner who lives in Essex with her two dogs and her partner who is an accountant.

Waters’s first spell of serious activism was with the campaign group One Law for All, a secularist organisation fronted by the Iranian feminist and human rights activist Maryam Namazie. Waters resigned in November 2013 after four years with the organisation. According to Namazie, Waters left due to political disagreements over whether the group should collaborate with members of far-right groups.

In April 2014, Waters founded Sharia Watch UK and, in January 2016, she launched Pegida UK with former EDL frontman Steven Yaxley-Lennon (aka Tommy Robinson). The group was established as a British chapter of the German-based organisation and was set up to counter what it called the “Islamisation of our countries”. By the summer of 2016, it had petered out.

Waters twice stood unsuccessfully to become a Labour parliamentary candidate. Today, she says she could not back Labour due to its “betrayal of women” and “betrayal of the country” over Islam. After joining Ukip in 2014, she first ran for political office in the Lambeth council election, where she finished in ninth place. At the 2015 general election, Waters stood as the party’s candidate in Lewisham East, finishing third with 9.1 per cent of the vote. She was chosen to stand again in the 2016 London Assembly elections but was deselected after her role in Pegida UK became public. Waters was also prevented from standing in Lewisham East at the 2017 general election after Ukip’s then-leader Nuttall publicly intervened.

The current favourite of the 11 candidates standing to succeed Nuttall is deputy leader Peter Whittle, with Waters in second. Some had hoped the party’s top brass would ban her from standing but last week its national executive approved her campaign.

Due to an expected low turnout, the leadership contest is unpredictable. Last November, Nuttall was elected with just 9,622 votes. More than 1,000 new members reportedly joined Ukip in a two-week period earlier this year, prompting fears of far-right entryism.

Mike Hookem MEP has resigned as Ukip’s deputy whip over Waters’ candidacy, saying he would not “turn a blind eye” to extremism. By contrast, chief whip, MEP Stuart Agnew, is a supporter and has likened her to Joan of Arc. Waters is also working closely on her campaign with Jack Buckby, a former BNP activist and one of the few candidates to run against Labour in the by-election for Jo Cox’s former seat of Batley and Spen. Robinson is another backer.

Peculiarly for someone running to be the leader of a party, Waters does not appear to relish public attention. “I’m not a limelight person,” she recently told the Times. “I don’t like being phoned all the time.”

The journalist Jamie Bartlett, who was invited to the initial launch of Pegida UK in Luton in 2015, said of Waters: “She failed to remember the date of the demo. Her head lolled, her words were slurred, and she appeared to almost fall asleep while Tommy [Robinson] was speaking. After 10 minutes it all ground to an uneasy halt.”

In an age when authenticity is everything, it would be a mistake to underestimate yet another unconventional politician. But perhaps British Muslims shouldn’t panic about Anne Marie Waters just yet.

James Bloodworth is editor of Left Foot Forward

This article first appeared in the 17 August 2017 issue of the New Statesman, Trump goes nuclear