There’s a number of depressing conclusions to be drawn, even at this early stage of affairs from the revelations about News Corp’s activities.
The first is that people — from individuals rightly sickened at the thought of News of the World journalists poring over Milly Dowler’s voicemails to politicians who should have known better — only seem to have voiced concerns when it involved a little girl. ‘It could have been us’, runs the thought.
And yet, the hacking — if it deserves that description as it only seems to have involved dialling into publicly available numbers and trying passwords until they found one that worked — had not only been going on for years but was known about for years. Few seem to have cared much about it when it involved people seen as disposable — actors, sportspeople, Z-list celebrities and the like.
It’s much the same when you discuss the issue of whether the UK should retain the monarchy. The two most common responses I’ve encountered concern the individuals — the Queen’s doing a good job and I wouldn’t want Blair — or the tourist money they supposedly bring in. Whether or not a country that describes itself as a modern democracy can continue to do so while it has an unelected head of state seems to be irrelevant: it’s simply not part of the discussion.
In both cases — Murdoch or royalty — the principal of whether it;s correct per se to hack into phones or to maintain an unelected head of state is not an argument it’s possible to have, or that people raise with themselves. Issues seem only to matter if they has a directly personal relevance. How we are governed seems not to fall into that category.
The second issue is that the ones truly responsible for this dismal state of affairs — the politicians who have been kowtowing to News Corp all these years — seem likely to be the ones who will be let off lightly. Cameron will be dented and might, in the most optimistic of scenarios, resign. But the rest of them will get away with it.
This is a direct consequence of the feeble level of political debate in this country, as I’ve already noted. It seems we get the politicians we deserve. If we continue to buy the News of the World — or Sun on Sunday as it will morph — then nothing will have fundamentally changed.
Yet the third issue is one that can be easily fixed: the low level of priority assigned by mobile operators to security compared to convenience. Voicemails seem to have been ridiculously easy to break into because passwords weren’t changed from their defaults; subscribers are unlikely even to have known their voicemails had a password let alone that they needed to change them because the operators didn’t tell them about it.
Britain prides itself on being a stable democracy with traditions many of which have changed little over the last 500 years. Consequently, people are not encouraged to think about issues of governance or principal involving public life. Maybe it’s time we did.