Have you been following the debacle and debate in Britain over phone hacking by journalists who worked at “News of the World”? To get bigger scoops, reporters hacked into the cell phones not just of pop stars and politicians. They are now also accused of vile violations like tapping into the voicemail of a missing teenager who was later found dead and listening to messages from family members of terror victims and fallen military members.
The reaction to this news? Disgust, and distancing. The Prime Minister has finally admitted political relationships with the paper have been too close for comfort, promising change. And advertisers finally pulled their cash away from the publication. In response, owner Rupert Murdoch is stopping presses at the 168 year old Sunday newspaper.
If only that could stop the underlying problem: a lack of humanity in the relentless pursuit of profit. I’m not naive enough to believe there were no dirty dealings in the decades before this latest scandal broke. Nor do I think it’s confined to this newspaper, or the media alone. My overarching concern is this credo of “greed is good” that became so famous after Oliver Stone’s movie “Wall Street” came out in the 1980s, stuck. When greed rules, human decency is crushed.
Rupert Murdoch’s eye is certainly on his prize. He has deal on the line: buying the part of Britain’s Sky TV (British Sky Broadcasting Group Plc.) he doesn’t already own. Murdoch’s empire is already huge. He owns Fox TV networks and film studios, the Wall Street Journal and book publisher HarperCollins. Bloomberg Businessweek reports his company’s revenues were $32.8 billion for the year ended last June, with net income of $2.54 billion.
But here’s what I find most disturbing about what’s happening: phone-hacking at “News of the World” isn’t new. The paper’s former royal correspondent went to jail in 2007 for tapping into royal family members’ phones.. However, it took these latest truly egregious accusations, which also include allegations the same correspondent bribed police, before the distancing and divesting began. And while police and politicians have an obligation to hone in on the investigation…under the intense pressure of global scrutiny…what about the rest of us after the headlines go away?
The “News of the World” wasn’t always an ethically compromised tabloid. News wasn’t always a no-holds barred business. Elevating the bottom line to top priority at all costs is a more modern phenomenon. Think paparazzi…again a modern invention: stepping over the line is their bread and butter and they are richly rewarded for the most invasive scoops. Advertisers will continue to pay to push their products in publications that sell well. People will continue to buy the rags with the juiciest scoops, or watch shows that capitalize on the personal lives of others. Decide if that’s the kind of “news” you want to pay for with your choice of what to read and watch. What you pay for will keep being delivered to your doorstep. Until society decides to value humanity, we honestly cannot expect to be treated with any.