The End of Newspapers
By Abdul Turay
Published Postimees 12 July 2011

Until last Sunday The News of the World was the most successful and biggest selling English language newspaper in the World. It sold 2.6 million copies more than the entire population of Estonia.


Then on 7 July 2011, Rebekah Brooks, the flame-haired chief executive of News International, the media empire that owns The News of the World, marched into their main office in Wapping unannounced and told the staff to their utter amazement that Sunday's editions would be the last and the paper, which has been in existence since 1843, would be closing.

In Britain, where I am at the moment, everybody is stunned; not just media types. Taxi drivers, hairdressers, waiters, fitness instructors, even people who don't even read newspapers, how much more The News of the World, are talking about nothing else.

Britain's newspaper industry is in deep trouble and the rest of the World is about to follow. The big issues are corruption, too much power in the hands of a few owners and the survival of the newspaper industry itself. All these issues are very relevant in Estonia.

Corruption

It is no point asking the question, is the media corrupt? it is pretty clear that large parts of it are.

Investigations conducted by rival newspaper The Guardian, and later by The New York Times and Vanity Fair proved the newspaper hacked phones, bribed police officers and bought the silence of politicians by threatening to expose their private lives.

The police believe this newspaper hacked the phones of anyone who they might have an interest in. Celebrities, member of royal family, the families of soldiers killed in Afghanistan, murdered children, the families of the victims of the terrorist bombing in London, all had their phones hacked.

Up until recently, News International have claimed that only one rogue reporter was responsible for the hacking, he went to jail, and that only a handful of people were hacked.

This was a lie, many reporters were involved and thousands of people were hacked. All of this happened in the early 2000s when the very same red-haired, Rebekah Brooks was the editor of the paper.

As Alan Rusbridger, editor of The Guardian told the BBC: “This (hacking of phones) was systematic, this went on for every story.”

What has outraged the British people most was the revelation that The News of the World hired a private investigator (P.I.) to hacked into the phone of a young girl, Milly Dowler, who had been abducted and was later found murdered. The P.I. was so desperate to listen to messages from worried relatives that he deleted exiting messages from her phone when her mailbox was full, leading the family and the police to believe that she was still alive.

It appears the newspaper industry in Britain is run by people who are irredeemably corrupt and/or all powerful.

The News of the World senior editors have admitted bribing the police to get stories. The police were so much in their pockets that did not seriously investigate wrong-doing for years.

Rebekah Brooks is so close to Rupert Murdoch the billionaire Tycoon who owns News International's parent company, News Corporation, the second biggest media conglomerate in the World, that she is sometimes referred to as his daughter.

She has become so powerful that even politicians are afraid of her. She was once called in front of House of Commons select committee. She refused to attend. The committee insisted she come. Then she let it be known that she could destroy the lives and careers of individual MPs on the committee, they climbed down.

After her brutal sacking of staff who were all new and not involved in the goings on under her editorship, not one staff member was prepared to go on record and criticise her. They are scared, they need new jobs.

Rebekah Brooks denies that she knew anything about phone hacking, or bribing police doing her time as editor and she has refused to resign.

Britain top editors find it highly unlikely that she is blameless.

“That any editor wouldn't know what was going on is inconceivable,”Rosie Boycott a former editor of British newspaper the Independent said.

“Who are these wrong doers? either that includes Rebekah Brooks or she didn't know what was going on in which case she is not very competent,” Alan Rushbridger said.

Only one man has confessed. Paul MacMillan a reporter who worked for her once stated: “Of course she knew.”

The flame-haired Mrs Brooks, successor was a man called Andy Coulson. He resigned as editor of the News of the World when the scandal first broke in 2008.

One politician in the U.K. Dame Shirley Williams described him recently as: “a brilliant liar”.

That didn't stop Prime Minister David Cameron from appointing him as his chief press adviser.

The public believe he is more honest than the flame-haired Mrs Brooks. It was he who admitted to bribing the police to get stories. He is now facing criminal charges.

Worse is set to follow. It seems the other tabloid papers not just The News of the World have been involved in phone hacking and bribing the police, they have been strangely muted on the the scandal.

Rebekah Brooks has said that when all the muck has come into the light people will understand why they had to close a newspaper.

Prime Minister David Cameron said there will be two independent inquiries, one into phone hacking and the other into the ethics and culture of the press.

Britain newspapers look pretty ugly compared to Estonia.

Money is driving corruption. Even if Estonia's editors were so inclined, there simple isn't the capital required to bribe police and pay private investigators to hack phones.

Estonia's press culture is fundamentally different. Newspapers in the U.K. are what daytime TV is the U.S. Britain's press has been in a yellow race to the bottom for years. Gossip, tittle tattle, sensationalism are what sells. In Estonia this newspaper outsells Õhtuleht.

Ownership of the media

In chat show after chat show the same refrain came up from politicians and media experts. Why has Britain allowed so much power to be concentrated in the hands of one foreigner, press Baron, Rupert Murdoch.

“MPs were terrified of taking on the tabloids, especially News International,” said actor, Hugh Grant himself a victim of the hacking.

“This is a protection racket,” Grant said on the BBC's Question Time.

“They are too powerful we have to sort out the power of the media,” said Harriet Harman deputy leader of the Labour party.

Ever since the late seventies no politician of any strip risked upsetting Rupert Murdoch because the belief was no party could win an election without Rupert Murdoch's support. This started when the News of the World's sister paper The Sun switched allegiance from Labour to the Conservatives in the the 1979 election.

This means a private businessman, who is not even domicile has more power than elected law-makers

One journalist, Jon Gaunt described a function held by Rupert Murdoch, he said all the great and the good were there; the entire cabinet and the shadow cabinet.

“It was like being in the court of the Sun King,” Gaunt said.

Can it be right the an unelected foreigner should have such power? Rupert Murdoch is Australian but he took American citizenship so he could control Fox television in the United States. He was once asked what nationality he considered himself and he answered.
“I'm just Anglo-Saxon.”

This isn't just a flippant remark, it's actually the case. He feels an emotional attachment to the country of his ancestors and to other great culturally “Anglo-Saxon” countries.

He doesn't act like a foreigner, he acts like a native. This is the both a problem and a boon. It means for example that he has kept the loss making The Times open for years, whereas somebody without this emotional attachment to the mother country might have closed it.

But it does mean he has a real interest in who gets elected.

No-one can really say how much influence Murdoch personal has on editorial policy. But The Sun and the News of the World have famously gone from being strongly left of centre papers to strongly right of centre ones, though the process didn't happen overnight.

Greg Dyke former head of the BBC has said Murdoch's time as Sun King may be over.

“We have had 30 years where cosied up to New International and Murdoch. I think this week that's been broken. I think it will fundamentally change politics and the media in this country.”

The relationship between politicians and journalist in Estonia is complex, and the subject for another article but we can say this.

In Estonia no politician of any political persuasion is scared of newspaper tycoons!

The opposition may not like the media but they are not afraid of them. At the last elections Edgar Savisaar increased his personal share of the vote despite all the mudslinging. This is a clear indication that the print media has only a limited influence on the way people vote.

Foreign ownership can be seen as a blessing in disguise. The Norwegian owners of this newspaper and the Swedish owners of Äripäev don't have the same emotional attachment to Estonia that Murdoch has to Britain or the USA. They don't influence editorial policy.

This is the view of the all editors and is a position not challenged by political parties of all stripes.

Their concern is journalists as a social class and the personal relationships between journalists and politicians not strategic relationships.


The survival of the newspaper industry

Here is where things get tough. It has been suggested across the board that the real reason why The News of the World was sacrificed was because News Corporation is in the bidding process to take full control of BSkyB Britain's major satellite operator. It already owns a third of the shares, it wants the rest. BSkyB has revenues of close to six billion pounds and net income of £878 million compared to a net income of both The News of the World and its sister paper the daily The Sun of £86 millions. Satellite television is the greater prize.

Closing down the newspaper clears the way for ownership of BSkyB in two ways, it reduces the minister's ability to veto the take over of BSkyB on the grounds of plurality, that is one person owning too many media outlets, and it makes it harder for the broadcast regulator, Ofcom, to prevent the sale on the grounds that Murdoch and his executives aren't “fit and proper persons” to run a broadcaster.


Too be sure after all this, it is looking increasingly unlikely that Murdoch will get control of BSkyB. But they had to do something. The bid would fail if News Corporation had done nothing.


Rupert Murdoch is the World greatest newspaper man. A man famed for his love of newspapers, yet he was prepared to cut loose his most successful newspaper, merely for the chance of owning a satellite broadcast platform.

We all know that newspapers readership is shrinking and ageing. The News of the World readership is down from 4 million to 2.6 million over the last 10 years.

We know most young people get their news for free from the  net, in Estonia this means Delfi, but if even profitable newspapers can be closed for strategic reasons what hope it there in the long term for less profitable or smaller ones?

Paying for news online isn't working either. Rupert Murdoch's son James has been gunning for the BBC because nobody is going to pay for news from The Times online when they can get just as good quality news for free.

The editor of this newspaper once told me nobody knows how to save the newspaper industry, not even Murdoch. It appears she was more right than she knew at the time.