In his Orwell Lecture Alan Rusbridger talked about a vacuum of 18 months in connection to the widespread phone hacking phenomenon at News International. That is, roughly 18 months passed before anything happened about NI’s obvious widespread invasion of thousands of people’s privacy, their regular usage of blackmail and intimidation. All that was revealed by the Guardian, but the revelations were ignored by those that should have done something. The police, other media outlets etc. did nothing or very little and nothing changed. NI still owned 40% of the British Media, was about to acquire more, one of the former NI executives under whose nose many questionable things happened was the Prime Minister’s head of communication. But the Guardian kept coming up with the goods, the details and the filth. They did not stop despite the vacuum of no reaction and the rants against Guardian’s findings in the Sun and other NI papers, visits Rusbridger received from senior police superintendents trying to convince him to stop pursuing the story and persecution of Guardian journalists.
It takes considerable courage to stand up against something (someone) so powerful. But it takes even more to be able to not give up, despite the vacuum. There is nothing worse than a vacuum. When all efforts seem to fail, as though everything froze; running on empty. One cannot help but admire Mr. Rusbridger and his team. Especially now, looking back, going trough the sequence of events. In sequence it all makes sense. Of course it does. All the pieces of the puzzle fit together. But going forward… No so much. While in the process investigative journalism does not make much sense, it is a leap in the dark. Over and over and over, say after day. Obviously, not many people are cut out to tolerate that.
Mr. Rusbridger thinks that a public press regulator “with teeth” could stop such things from happening in the future. I tend to agree, but I think there is more to the matter. It is “normal” for the powerful strong-arm the weak. It seems to be a fact of life that most big corporations can do as they please. I come from a country where this is norm. Where the powerful bully people into submission, where actions rarely have consequences. I know exactly what lies further down the road from phone hacking. While a press regulator would be great, I believe a wake up call to the British press would be even better. They should all realize how important investigative journalism is. Yes, it is expensive and time-consuming, but the phone hacking scandal proved that without someone who was actually willing to stand up to the bullies.
How the Guardian stood up to News International should be a parable to all. It should be taught, like Watergate is. It probably will be.
Until then everyone must watch Alan Rusbridger’s Orwell Lecture.