I'm still reeling from Richard Desmond's appearance yesterday at the Leveson Inquiry. Together with the editors of his newspapers, the Star and the Express, he painted a picture of the tabloid media as a sinkhole of greed, cynicism and incompetence. Only this last element truly surprised me: I've always assumed that the purveyors of this vicious, racist, cynical, misleading propaganda and filth knew exactly what they were doing. This is of course, even worse than being enthusiastic. I assume that Mail and Sun writers don't in fact vote for the BNP, leer over young women's breasts and endorse pogroms in their personal lives: they just advocate it for money to sell newspapers. Perhaps I'm wrong though.
Down at the level of the Express and Star though, things are very different. Richard Desmond's appearance was in a sense refreshing. The Mail claims to have some sort of reactionary mission: it's pompous, self-serving and hypocritical. This last charge can't be applied to Desmond and his henchmen. Their testimony was revoltingly honest: they say whatever sells newspapers (and take a cavalier approach to truth), whether that's accusing the royal family of murdering Diana (my two cents: drunk chauffeur, passengers too stupid to wear seat belts) or repeatedly accusing the McCanns of murdering their daughter without any evidence at all (and hearing Desmond add 'etc. etc. etc.' to his apology to the McCanns only added credibility to his opening statement: 'Ethics - I don't know what the word means'.
One of the most unpleasant elements of the Express's hypocrisy is its censorious approach to sexuality. Let's have a look at what was on its owners TV stations while he was giving evidence, shall we? Unfortunately, Portland TV's website is remarkably coy about what its '17 channels', but a little further digging finds Television X, the Fantasy Channel, and various Red Hot stations (showing such treats as 'Bathroom Bitches' during daytime hours) including Red Hot Only 18 and Red Hot Rears. Yesterday's treats included 'Indian Amateur 1', 'Lesbo Chicks Do Boy Girl 4' and 'Hot and Heavy 1'. Over on Television X, you could have watched the frankly baffling 'Cathy Barry Extreme Interracial 2', 'Jim Slip's [geddit?] Euro Matures 2', 'Ready Steady Chav 2' or 'Freddy's British Granny Hunt''.
Other highlights of Mr. Desmond's career include his ownership of a range of pornographic magazines such as Megaboobs, Asian Babes and Skinny and Wriggly, getting an executive tasered in the testicles during a violent confrontation with the Gambino mafia family and - my personal favourite - goose-stepping round a board room while singing 'Deutschland Über Alles' to Telegraph executives during a business dispute. Mr. Desmond is Jewish.
Now the salient point is this: Desmond explicitly sees newspapers as vehicles for selling advertising. He has no truck with high-flown notions of the public sphere. Newspaper content has no responsibility to the wider community: a position even the Mail, which has delusions of running the country, would find distasteful. To honest Dick, this is pompous nonsense put about by the Establishment which wants to freeze him out. In a sense, I agree with him: I wouldn't want to go back to a situation in which newspapers are solely owned by plutocratic peers of the realm who use their organs as vehicles for hegemonic continuity. Nor would I want a world in which only broadsheets are permitted. But is the media sphere - especially on the right - particularly independent now? They all hate the EU, foreigners, black people, women, socialists, the poor. To read the tabloids is to enter a world of fear, paranoia, hatred and easy bigotry. At least the Mail genuinely believes all these things: Desmond appears to promote them solely to sell advertising space.