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Thursday, January 17, 2008 

A swing and a miss.

Rebekah Wade tends not to do public events. The last time she gave evidence to a parliamentary committee she accidentally blabbed that the Scum "sometimes" paid police officers for stories, which quickly resulted in News International "clarifying" the matter by saying they never paid such sources. Then there was the time she got drunk and in the yobbish fashion that she condemns in her newspaper smacked her now ex-husband, resulting in a night in the cells.

To go by yesterday's appearance before the Lords communications committee, she'd been prepping herself for a long time. Not that she should of bothered: the committee was completely hopeless at drawing blood from such an easy target. Despite the abundance of evidence, including Wade's own comment that Murdoch is "a very hands-on proprietor", they failed completely in provoking her into providing examples of such interference. Anyone who's read Piers Morgan's faux diaries of his time whilst editing the News of the World will note that Murdoch doesn't need to expressly ask his editor to either spike a piece, go with a certain viewpoint or cover a different story entirely; he just casts doubt on his editor's decision. Moreover, all Murdoch's editors are expressly picked precisely because they can be trusted to not deviate from his own views: they all know full well the consequences for going dangerously off course. It's in this way in which he controls both his tabloids and up-market papers: there could be no greater example of his influence than the fact that every single one of his newspapers worldwide supported the Iraq war.

The closest the committee came to anything like a revelation was that Murdoch himself doesn't much like the overbearing celebrity coverage, now headed by Gordon Smart, the worst editor of the "Bizarre" pages since the last one. The only thing both he and Wade agreed upon on that front was on Pop Idol, which just so happens to be broadcast on the Fox network in the US.

There were so many possibilities to put Wade on the ropes that it's remarkable that the committee didn't even attempt to show its fangs. They could have asked Wade why the paper was so supportive of Blair, to the extent that the paper became known as the Downing Street Echo, but seem to have missed even that. They could of capitalised on the paper's numerous mistakes and apologies after the past year, from the inflammatory claim that "Muslim yobs" had vandalised homes that soldiers were to move into, which it got completely wrong, the smearing of the Kamal family that was caught up in the Forest Gate terror raid, the apology to Janet Hossain's family for claiming that she was found dead in bondage gear when she was wearing normal clothes and hadn't been involved in any sort of sexual activities prior to her death, or even resurrected the Rochelle Holness scandal, where the paper claimed she had been cut up while alive, with the bereaved family condemning the newspaper for being just as heartless as her murderer. The article is still up on the website and no apology has ever been made. They could have attacked Wade's ridiculous campaign for "Sarah's law" and the numerous lies the paper printed about the EU reform treaty, both of which were accompanied by petitions that were flagrantly misleading, or how the Scum continues to demand even harsher law and order policies, despite the prison system being full to bursting point precisely because of it and other newspapers' outlandish demands, such as for prison ships. The paper's facile and disgraceful attempts to smear the Human Rights Act as a terrorists' charter could have been brought up and exposed.

Instead we have to make do with a half-hearted complaint from a bishop and Lady Thornton about page 3. Both could have gone far further and pointed out the far more vile nature of page 3 idol, and how the paper is encouraging young women to involve themselves in leering lads' competitions, all for the benefit of its already rich proprietor, who pays out a paltry £5,000 prize to the eventual winner. Wade just brushed it off in the usual fashion by attacking Clare Short. That the "MySun" online community also encourages young women, whose age is isn't easily verifiable to involve themselves in similar escapades could have been brought up as well.

As ever, it turned out to be a complete missed opportunity. Complete freedom of the press is only in the interests of everyone in society when it's regulated in a robust fashion. The toothless PCC fails to provide that, and now the supposed attack dogs in both houses of parliament have failed as well. It's little wonder therefore that the tabloid press in this country continues to sink to levels so low that even a world-record holding limbo dancer would have difficulty in reaching them.

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