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Welcome to the world of Nineteen Eighty Four: The U.K. scandal and Australia

By Peter West - posted Thursday, 21 July 2011


In his brilliant novel Nineteen Eighty Four, George Orwell depicts a nightmare world of the future. The State is all-powerful. It keeps the population under firm control by means of a permanent state of war, which demands strict rationing and a semi-military authority over people. There is a daily “Two Minute Hate” which mobilises people against the current enemy. The State watches people daily for any sign of disagreement. Ordinary people have no rights, no privacy, and virtually no power. At the climax of the novel’s climax, its hero, Winston Smith, in bed with a woman, has his house invaded by a trusted friend and he is dragged away for torture and brainwashing before being executed as a traitor.

And now look at what’s been going on in the U.K. The phone-hacking scandal is very complex and it’s difficult for this ordinary citizen to get his head around. I’ve had to make my comments very general out of caution. But some of the highlights seem to be as follows: Family members of dead soldiers may have had their phones hacked into by journalists; relatives of Jean Menezes, shot by police in London as a suspected terrorist, have been told by police that their private numbers were in the possession of a private investigator linked witha major newspaper; it’s claimed that the medical records, legal files, and tax forms of Gordon Brown have been accessed in order to discredit him; at the time of writing, nine people have been arrested and possibly charged by detectives in the U.K and senior executives have resigned; Liberal Democrat Leader and U.K. Deputy Prime Minister, Nick Clegg, has called for a thorough media enquiry and Senator Bob Brown, leader of the Greens in Australia, has called for an inquiry here into media ownership and media ethics.

There are also moves by powerful U.S. politicians to bring major media organisations to account for alleged irregularities. The Federal Bureau of Investigation now seems likely to be involved. The whole business is spiraling out of anyone’s control.

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Democratic societies are supposed to be governed by a Prime Minister in Cabinet, accountable to a Parliament or a President and Congress. The police have a duty to enforce the law. An independent, free press is meant to offer criticism and advice.  All of these are meant to be separate organisations. This has not been happening in the U.K, the U.S, or Australia.

It’s claimed that police have been paid for information used by journalists to discredit the politicians they dislike. In America, right-wing people are being paid by right-wing-leaning media corporations, and they criticise the President and Congress. In Australia we have the suspicious business of an orchestrated campaign against the carbon tax. Tony Abbott, right-wing shock jocks and some of the newspapers have long been involved in a campaign targeting the carbon tax and the Greens - as Bob Brown stated in the media on 13th July. Clover Moore, Lord Mayor of Sydney, has also been targeted.

So where are an individual’s rights, if journalists can target those they dislike and wine and dine with those whose policies they approve of? Do powerful media interests bully Members of Parliament? Are improper payments being made by journalists to police to discredit people and air dirty linen in public for improper purposes?

Why was Thatcher so close to media owners, though they are never mentioned in her memoirs? Why did Citizen Rupert support Tony Blair so enthusiastically, as well as supporting the war in Iraq? And if this can happen in the U.K., why not here?

It is all sounding much too like Nineteen Eighty Four.

Even the ‘Two Minute Hate’ has its counterparts today. As I’ve said, there was big media support for war in Iraq, or anywhere else, really. The U.K. newspapers’ manic support for Thatcher and her ludicrous war over The Falklands are well known. Here in Australia the State of Origin will do nicely. This farcical struggle between New South Wales and Queensland keeps Rugby League in the paper. The military language is important: Mate Against Mate, State Against State was used some years ago. Or more recently, When Two Sides Go to War…When the Blues went to play in Brisbane in a match no sane person thought they could win, the media trumpeted they were going into enemy territory.

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The parochial media publicise every hamstring tear and bruised lip as if it were life-threatening information. And who gets their ads broadcast? Whose logo is on these matches? Mostly, it’s alcohol and gambling interests. The idea seems to be: keep the masses amused with trivial things, goad them on to hate some imagined enemy, keep them drinking and gambling, and keep sensible discussion out of the papers.

The best discussion of the whole messy business has been in The Guardian. There have been suggestions that Gordon Brown has been urging it on, in revenge against what News Corporation did to bring his Prime Ministership down. This may well be true.

James Murdoch has acknowledged “repeated wrongdoing” at News Limited and the editor of News International, Rebekah Brooks, resigned late last week.

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About the Author

Dr Peter West is a well-known social commentator and an expert on men's and boys' issues. He is the author of Fathers, Sons and Lovers: Men Talk about Their Lives from the 1930s to Today (Finch,1996). He works part-time in the Faculty of Education, Australian Catholic University, Sydney.

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