Sunday, 10 July 2011

Knowing when to bail: This isn't politics, it's bigger than that – just ask Hugh Grant

Hugh Grant: Not just a pretty face
Like everyone in the country, I am agog at what's going on. The tabloid press seem to have sunk to new lows below even those assumed of them. The police seem to be guilty of taking a discretionary approach to what is or is not illegal, based on self-interest. And it would seem that politicians have entered a Faustian pact with the Murdoch empire that has prevented anyone from getting to the bottom of how information is bought, sold and publicised in some parts of the British media. Just ask Hugh Grant, he knows all about it.

It now seems clear that Murdoch may not be allowed to buy the rest of the BSkyB but that his current holdings need to be reviewed and reduced. Even without further revelations only a nitwit would try to defend the assertion that News International will do a thorough job cleaning up its act through self-regulation or, for that matter, the Metropolitan Police should be left to its own devices. It is political suicide to trivialise the implications of this, because the public have got beyond the 'smoke without fire' stage to organising its own evacuation. The public isn't waiting for politicians to tell them what to do: Mumsnet and the Church of England are looking at a Murdoch boycott and are sufficiently well informed not to be distracted by the closure of the News of the World. The good old Guardian has become our very own Washington Post, now looked to across the world for the only unbiased coverage of this whole business.

I have a close friend who is the international editor of a well-known celebrity magazine and she has often told me of the fear the famous have of the British tabloid press, some choose never to come to the UK or leave hastily because of it. No great loss, you may think, but an interesting indicator of how the British tabloid press is in a class of its own when it comes to being out of control. Further it has always fascinated me that the worst practices of some of the media in this country are managed and exploited by non-residents who would not welcome or tolerate such intrusion in the countries they choose to live in. Having said that, my friend has often argued for the continuance of an unregulated press. So what's to do?

Ed Miliband has been accused of playing politics with this issue, I don't think that is possible. Like Watergate and the Profumo Affair, it's got beyond that now. We do need to stop the Murdoch takeover sharpish. We do need someone to stop the deleting as it is now, shredding as it was in Ollie North's day. And as David Cameron agreed, old Rebekah Brooks needs to go whether she is a 'lightning rod' or not, if only to say that if it all goes tits up on your watch, it's your responsibility.

I am amazed and, I have to say, delighted at the role Hugh Grant has played in all this. It seems following his relentless experience of being 'papped', he fought back by taking ex-News of the World journalist Paul McMullan out for a drink with a microphone pen in his pocket to record and expose the hacking, police bribery allegations and the culpability of politicians and newspaper editors and bosses as McMullan bragged that 'he [Grant] was powerless to do anything about it.' Given his extraordinary tenacity I think he should definitely play himself in the inevitable film.

It may yet turn out that Andy Coulson becomes #newsgate's Oliver North, but even going for his scalp won't keep the information, outrage and disgust coming wave upon wave now. Talking of waves, if you want to avoid a painful wipeout, the knowledgeable surfer knows when it's best to bail  a surfing term meaning jumping in the water before you lose your balance. Let's hope the PM remembers in time, that to ride the next wave, bailing is better than heading for a wipeout.

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