In his Orwell Lecture at Birkbeck, 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 was ignored by all relevant Government bodies. Nothing happened, nothing changed. NI still owned 40% of the British Media, was about to own more, and one of the former NI executives, under whose nose many questionable things happened, was the Prime Minister’s head of communication. In the meantime the Guardian kept coming up with the goods, the details and the filth. Despite the Sun attacking the Guardian’s investigation, senior policemen trying to convince Mr Rusbridger to stop pursuing the story, and persecution of journalists involved.
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 be fruitless, running on empty. Thus one cannot help but admire the achievement of Mr. Rusbridger and his team. Especially now, going through 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, whilst in the process, investigative journalism does not make much sense, it is a leap in the dark. Obviously, not many people are cut out to tolerate that.
Mr. Rusbridger saw the solution in the form of a public press regulator “with teeth”. I tend to agree, but I think there is more to the matter. It is “normal” for the powerful to 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 realise how important investigative journalism is. Yes, it is expensive and time-consuming, but the phone hacking scandal proved its vital importance.
If there is any justice in the world the story of how the Guardian stood up to News International should be a parable to all future journalists. It should be taught, like Watergate is. It probably will be.
Until then everyone should watch Alan Rusbridger’s Orwell Lecture.