The end of the World as we knew it (and I feel fine)

Some of you may have heard of the scandal evolving at the News of the World in the past few days. But even those who haven’t will be aware of the British tabloid press (surely its (in)fame has spread as far as California, Mr. Pig?) The tabloids here are big. There’s the Sun, the Mirror, the Star, the News of the World, the Mail (although this is a borderline case – it would probably not consider itself a true tabloid). They’re sensational, and low-brow. They spin stories to sell papers, and have no qualms digging up dirt on anyone and everyone in order to create a story out of nothing.

One example from when we lived in Ireland has always stuck with me. The Telegraph had a story about nuclear waste being transported from Europe to the Sellafield nuclear power station on the west coast of England. It’s headline was “Sellafield to process Germany’s atom waste“. The Sun took the angle that a ship carrying nuclear waste would pass within a few miles of much of England and Ireland, and went with “NUCLEAR DISASTER!”. Hmm, yes – very objective reporting, chaps.

Now, it’s generally accepted here that celebrities and politicians are fair game. If you choose a profession that puts you in the public eye, you should expect to get a good grilling from the tabloids every other week. Usually involving near-strangulation by poor puns. If you keep your nose squeaky clean, and remain faithful to whomever you’re supposed to, and don’t give your kids wacky names, you shouldn’t be crucified more than once a year. But put one foot wrong, or say something controversial, and you’re hung out to dry quicker than you can say “Can I take that back please?”

However, the common man has usually managed to get away with being the consumer of this distasteful fodder, rather than being on the plate, so to speak. The tabloids pick up all the bits and bobs from all over the country, and mix them up into a smorgasbord of pure entertainment for the hoi polloi to snack on. But with the News of the World scandal, things have taken a more sinister turn. What they’ve done is hack into phones, and tap conversations of people involved in major news items in order to have an inside track on the stories. These people (allegedly) included the family members of victims of the July 7 bombings, families of soldiers killed in Iraq, and a murdered teenage girl (to pick up the voicemail messages left for her). Ordinary people.

When I started writing this last week, it seemed as though they’d get off with a bit of public ire, and it would all blow over. But then the advertisers bailed, and the link between the editor and the prime minister made it a hot topic with the Opposition, and then suddenly the announcement was made that the paper would be closed. Good riddance, I say.

While the fuss has all been directed at NotW, I get the feeling that the other tabloids have been doing similar dastardly deeds in the background. They’re keeping very quiet about the whole thing, as though they’re scared to act too holier-than-thou in case they’re next.

In the meantime, though, they’re free to carry on their miserable pun-filled, scandal-infested, spin-strained barrage of half-truths and rumours. Thankfully, they’re easy enough to ignore.

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