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:
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”.