Monday, 24 May 2010

Gutters, greed and grumbles

Two daft and depressing recent stories from the world of tabloid. And one from the fuzzy zone where tabloidness and politics merge and blend.

First off, somebody vaguely important and connected with a game that lots of people seem to like quite a lot had an ex-girlfriend. They went out to supper together and she secretly taped his conversation and sold the recording to a newspaper (actually this should be "newspaper" - it was the Mail on Sunday) for 75,000 pounds. As a result of some of the mildly indiscreet comments that he was taped making, England's chance to host a massive festival of the game that lots of people like has been destroyed for ever. Or not.

We won't know for a while but Lord Triesman (for it was he - and no, I hadn't heard of him before either) has lost his job heading the Football Association (for it was soccer - I have heard of that, but only barely) and has obviously annoyed a lot of people in the important world of football. The UK has spent a phenomenal amount of money on preparing for the Olympic games in 2o12, and evidently there was some hope that we might get a chance to recoup if we could host the football World Cup in 2018. Blown, apparently, for a mere 75,000 quids and a few more readers for the MoS.

Secondly, somebody who was once married to a former helicopter pilot who got lucky in the lottery of birth is secretly filmed soliciting huge sums of money for "access" to her ex husband. Apparently she was under the impression that meeting her ex-husband would be worth that kind of money to some of the people who have that kind of money.

But who would pay that kind of dosh to meet this rather undistinguished guy? (I believe he's a good golfer, to be fair). Well, the ex-husband has some rather nebulous role as the UK's special representative for International Trade and Investment, so quite possibly coughing up half a million quid (the price named by the ex-wife) might somehow turn out to be all worth while for the keen investor. Invest in Britain - my lovely country, with the best royal family money can buy.

Both depressingly ugly stories. Both involve a certain degree of illegality and some grey areas. For one thing, it is illegal in the UK to record a conversation without all parties being aware that recording is taking place. Journalists sometime get round this by claiming a public interest exemption (where for example the person taped has public office and the taping provides evidence of their unfitness).

But one trouble with public interest is defining it. Is it more in the public interest that Britain gets to host the World Cup, bringing huge sums into the economy? Or is it more in the public interest that we find out that someone most of us have never heard of texted his squeeze with the words "sweet dreams" and gossiped about whether one nation competing in the footie might try and bribe a referee? Who decides where the interest lies?

Then there's the general grubbiness of people "monetising" their personal relationships. I'm not sure whether Triesman's fancy, one Melissa Jacobs, was ever in it for anything other than the dosh. (She's a civil servant, apparently, and my goodness how standards must have fallen. She's also a blogger, inevitably enough.)

But how much would you sell access to your ex spouse for? Should I be offering introductions to my Beloved for the highest bidder? A current spouse, no less, and he'll probably make you a nice cup of tea too. But alas, no investment advice, so introductions to him have no monetary value.

Finally the third story - well, not so much a story as a state of affairs. The News of the World, the paper which gave us Fergie floggin access to Andrew, used to employ a private investigator and a journalist who together tapped phones, hacked into voicemail and did a lot of reprehensible stuff on a large scale. They were both caught and jailed. The paper had to pay damages to a number of victims, including footballers and members of the royal household (not, you'll note, just of people who happen to have been born or married into royalty, but also people who simply got jobs there).

During the court case in which the two were jailed, editorial staff at the paper were criticised for suffering a convenient "collective amnesia" about arrangements for the bugging, especially as regards to who knew about it, or indeed who solicited it.

The then editor especially, one Andy Coulson, claimed he knew nothing whatsoever about it - which either means he was an extremely poor editor who had no idea how the stories which appeared in his paper were obtained or what the large payments were being made for, or he was being extremely economic with the actualite. Numerous people are said to be considering suing him and the corporation for which he worked (News International, owned by Murdoch, which at the last election not only supported the Conservative Party but turned fairly rabid attacks onto Nick Clegg of the Lib Dems... until he made the deal which put Cameron in Number 10 and was suddenly hailed as a noble statesman).

Coulson is no longer editor of the News of the World, which ought to be good news. But actually, it isn't. He's now "Director of Communications" for the Prime Minister.

One wonders who is more pleased: Cameron for having such a direct line to his master's voice, Murdoch for having his bagman not in the corridors of power but inside the very office, or Coulson for the wonderful reward for his sterling career in "communications".

I'm sure all the other tabloids (those few not already in the News International kennel) are taking note.

Expect more of this. The rewards for illegality, grubby muck-raking and pursuing vendettas are great. Rather greater, one must now suppose, than the half a million quid solicited by La Fergie for a chance to press the flesh with her ex.

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