As I read The Economist‘s book review of Nick Davies’ “Hack Attack: The Inside Story of How the Truth Caught Up with Rupert Murdoch“, I couldn’t help but draw similes between Rupert Murdoch, the Australian media mogul, and the mind-mapping character of Charles Augustus Magnussen, another media mogul shortly introduced in the final episode of Sherlock Season 3.
Magnussen, throughout the episode, has been depicted as the conniving, cunning media owner who possesses secrets of people which he uses to gain leverage of when in need. He is the epitome of media high-handedness, with his arrogance manifested through his actions at Sherlock’s residence, 221B Baker Street, and his control over the lady who wants to bring him to justice.
Rupert Murdoch and his News of the World have been shown in similar light in Nick Davies’ book. Nick Davies, the author, could be considered the writer version of Sherlock. The Economist states:
Parts of his book read like a detective novel, as he describes how he tracked down sources, dug up documents and navigated the stalling and obfuscation emanating from everyone from News International to the police, who, despite sitting on mounds of evidence, seemed curiously reluctant to investigate. A culture of chumminess, and of bribing policemen for information, says Mr Davies – as well as the News of the World’s knowledge of the personal secrets of several senior policemen – may have had something to do with this.
Davies has himself performed all detective activities, trying to uncover the truth behind the phone hacking scandal that brought News of the World, the tabloid newspaper that brought headlines to the world, itself into the headlines.
Nothing of the sort occurred in the final episode of Sherlock, however. On the contrary, Magnussen seemed to be well placed to humiliate Sherlock and indirectly the British government, before Sherlock sought a “final” recourse. It just goes on to highlight the unaccountable power that Magnussen amassed even over the British government. Though there aren’t any direct indications of the government and public figures living in fear of Magnussen, except perhaps Lady Smallwood, who leads the enquiry against Magnussen and approaches Sherlock, the feeling is remarkably similar. As cited in the article:
[The book] is also about unaccountable power and the subversion of government. Britain’s politicians, public figures and police forces live in fear of its powerful media, especially those bits owned by Rupert Murdoch.
At times, it feels like Murdoch in real life (or Magnussen in reel life) is (was) the puppeteer and the government, much like in this case, is the puppet. The book doesn’t elude a much different tone against Murdoch either:
Papers like the News of the World are (or were) important players in Britain’s political game, trading access for favours, keeping secrets when it suits them and revealing them when it doesn’t. Policies – including tax changes and decisions about the National Health Service – are made at the whim of tabloid editors. Politicians who refuse to co-operate, or who set themselves publicly against a pet cause, can expect relentless opposition.
Magnussen’s key, and probably his only, strength was his memory. He kept information about people when he wanted to, threatening to reveal at the snap of a finger. This takes me to another topic about the power of information but I digress…
What does the government do then? When governments and police are caught unguarded in hesitant circumstances, there is little hope for much to change. The main problem, as far as I see it, is that everyone is involved. For there to be change, in any country for that matter, systems and institutions, as they are defined in economics textbooks, need to change. But they are all under the purview of government, which is under the “purview” of the media. Even in Britain, where I expected a lot more regulation and control, power is in the hands of the ringmaster.
[…]little has really changed, with an unaccountable and arrogant press holding the whip hand over a cowed and compliant government.
So, what is the solution? Embrace a Sherlock-style outlook and “eliminate” the source? I am certainly not one to endorse such a “quick-fix” solution, but when bitter facts and harsh truth are at stake, some diligence needs to be poured into vesting power in the right hands.
What do you say? Does media high-handedness bring any nightmarish events to mind?