The recent and still unfolding events at the News Of The World have bought back memories from 25 years ago as I stood on a picket line in Wapping in support of striking printers and journalists.
The dispute was staged as a protest against Rupert Murdoch moving News International from Fleet Street to a fortified industrial plant at Wapping, along with the introduction of new technologies, working patterns and no-strike clauses. As a printer at the time, I felt it important to show my support.
Despite having lived in Nottinghamshire during the 1984-85 miners strike and attending many demonstrations in solidarity with their cause, Wapping was the first time I saw indiscriminate and heavy handed police tactics. On a nightly basis they ensured The Sun, News Of The World, The Times and Sunday Times left News International on time. In the name of Murdoch and Margaret Thatcher, they were brutal. I can assure you that printers' blood runs red. The irony that the Metropolitan Police are involved in this current scandal isn't lost on me.
Murdoch had good reason to fear his workers. During the '84 miners strike, the unionised workforce refused to print a front page of The Sun where by a casual photograph of the NUM president, Arthur Scargil, was made to look like he was Sieg Heiling. The paper had to run without the offending headline and photo, and instead displayed a statement that introduced the public to the historic vocabulary of print unions, (union branches are called chapels and shop stewards either Father or Mother of the Chapel).
Left: The offending article, right: as it appeared on the news stands. Image courtesy of: the-sun-lies.blogspot.com
These sort of insidious tactics to discredit political opponents were common place in the pages of The Sun and the News Of The World in the 1980s, and not much has changed in 25 years. Their influence doesn't stop their though, I've always believed that these papers editorial stance influences the public mindset; you only have listen to a pub conversation to realise how the national debate on immigration aligns so closely to that of a right wing press. Successive governments and power hungry opposition parties realise this, which is why they desperately rewrite policies in an effort to keep in touch with a tabliod version of public opinion. No wonder there is so little explicit and intelectual ideology in politics in 2011.
It doesn't stop there either. It is impossible to discuss these papers without mentioning the duplicitous attitude to sex, as scandels appear next to page three 'beauties', and pedophiles are shamed next to half-naked women dressed in school uniforms. Mixed values emerge, and ones that have bought attacks on innocent people after a pedophile naming and shaming exercise by the News Of The World under Rebekah Brooks', (nee Wade), editorial control. There is nothing, absolutely nothing, that I have ever been able to find that is redeeming about these publications.
Billy Bragg's take on the tabloids
As I remember back to standing on the picket line at Wapping, I could be forgiven for thinking that there is some sort of moral victory in the News Of The World being axed. However, I know this is just game play and while The Sun still stays in circulation, I can not toast the demise of this single despicable cog in a wider power machine that is Rupert Murdoch's empire.