“Thank you & goodbye” said the front page headline of the last ever edition of the News of the World . But it really isn’t that simple, is it? As a former newspaper journalist, I have been completely enthralled by the News International/News of the World story over the last few days. I’ve been trying to imagine what it must have been like for the NotW staff to find out that their paper was to close, and they were out of a job, all in the space of a few days. They had to work on the final edition knowing that they had nothing to do with the scandal engulfing it, but were, as has been said over and over again, paying the highest price for the misdemeanours of others. The Independent on Sunday summed up the mood of the masses when it said in its editorial: “the wrong red-top went”.
Working for an organisation which is under immense public scrutiny is uncomfortable. I worked for the BBC during two “scandals”. The first was after Andrew Gilligan’s now infamous “sexed-up dossier” report on the Today programme in 2003 & the second, five years later, followed the Radio 2 broadcast by Russell Brand & Jonathon Ross. The repercussions of both incidents were felt by every BBC employee and contributor. BBC editorial policy was considered to be “defective” & far-reaching changes were introduced. Most of us felt as though we were being scrutinised to within an inch of our professional lives.
Now though, in light of the revelations of the last few days, I realise that the event which left the most significant mark on me was the forced departure of Greg Dyke, the highly regarded Director General of the BBC. Following the publication of the Hutton Report in January 2004, Mr Dyke was told that his position was untenable & he had to go. I was overseeing the BBC Radio Wales phone-in on the day his resignation was announced. We were reporting walk-outs from various BBC offices across the country, including Cardiff. People who were proud to work for & with Greg Dyke were genuinely upset by the news. The majority of listeners to our programmes felt the same.
Greg Dyke was an inspirational, much admired leader. He didn’t want to go. The vast majority of the people who worked for him wanted him to stay. History has shown us that he was a sacrificial lamb. The BBC was certainly poorer for his departure. It is inconceivable that anyone would say the same thing about Rebekah Brooks, so why is she still at the helm of News International?
Anyone who has ever worked in a newsroom will testify that editors, even bad ones, have an insatiable need to know the ins & outs of any decent story. Mrs Brooks would never have risen to such giddy heights without being made in the same mould. We’re told that she has offered her resignation, but it was refused. In Brooks’ case, the dissenting voices are getting louder. But she is seemingly cemented to her executive spot. She is, we are told, Rupert Murdoch’s “priority”. In football parlance when the manager has the chairman’s “vote of confidence” one day he often finds himself unemployed the next.
Mea culpa? Apparently not, yet. A word of caution though – things are rarely as they seem. Are we witnessing a long slow slaughter I wonder, the like of which we have never seen before? Will time tell an even more sensational story? I suspect it might.