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Bobby Friedman

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Closing Murdoch's Papers Could Kill Opinion

Posted: 07/11/11 05:20 PM ET

The "rogue reporter" theory of hacking at the News of the World has been shown to be utterly absurd, as made up as much of what goes into some of the more desperate pages of a tabloid newspaper.

Now, following today's allegations that the Sun and the Sunday Times obtained personal information about Gordon Brown through dubious means, it seems that any notion that the News of the World was alone amongst the News International stable in stepping far too far over the line in its pursuit of stories will equally become an outdated and incredulous assertion.

But the closure of the News of the World has set a worrying precedent. If the only solution to wrongdoing is to rip the paper up and throw its staff out to the wolves, then what comes next for the Sun and the Sunday Times if the Brown allegations turn out to be just the start? Worryingly, the profit made by Murdoch's papers is relative small fry compared to his other business interests. Papers bring influence, but if they also end up bringing endless bad publicity and untold amounts of hassle, the argument for maintaining them evaporates.

And this is where I begin to get worried. When the News of the World was closed, I was relatively alone in feeling a sense of desolation. The abuses perpetrated by some of its staff were sick, and it was a rare Sunday when I actually bothered to buy the paper. But there was something about the destruction of a means of communicating news and current affairs to three million people, with a very long history of doing so, that really got to me.

The problem is that newspapers are run as private enterprises and yet they provide a public service. The fact that the current structure has maintained the UK's brilliantly high circulation rates is to be applauded but not taken for granted. Fewer than ten newspapers dominate our national landscape and determine what people think -- and whether they bother to think about the news at all. If some of these pillars of the media structure are felled, there is no guarantee that they will be replaced.

Many people might not think that such a bad thing when it comes to a red top like the Screws. But let's not forget that amongst all the celebrity drivel there was a real and serious news output, informing people and influencing opinion -- as evidenced by the presence of the excellent David Wooding and Ian Kirby in the political section. Nor was it mere regurgitative journalism -- like the Sunday Times and its Insight team, there was a proper sense of investigative journalism.

Turning to the Sun and the Sunday Times, if both were to be closed -- a seemingly unthinkable thought, and yet much the same would have been said about the News of the World a week ago -- we would again lose two vital tools in our society. Of course, there would be a much greater outcry about the Sunday Times (a far more favored choice of the Twitterati), but for me the same arguments apply. Both provide essential means of informing us about what's going on in the world; both have been doing so for a very long time; and there's no guarantee that they would be replaced.

So when you look at this great and ever-increasing scandal, I urge you to think not of the papers as mere cash cows for Murdoch. Look at them as what they are: papers that have a vital role to play in the functioning of our democracy. End the practices that have so disgusted us all; and take them away from Murdoch if you want. But in the hunt for blood, don't let's kill off the plurality of our media, and of our thinking.

 
 
 

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