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Monday, July 18, 2011

Stuart Kuttner's career: an exercise in self-regulation?

Stuart was managing editor of the News of the World from 1987-2009 - yes, he would be the perfect whistle-blower, except that he stepped down as a sacrificial lamb after the 2009 Guardian story that blew all this open. "News of the World's current editor Colin Myler paid tribute to Kuttner, saying: "His DNA is absolutely integrated into the newspaper which he has represented across the media with vigour." By random chance, my first job after my first law degree was on a short-lived start-up trade title called 'Journalists' Week' (pre-Internet and died in 1991 with its proprietor, but links to its editor here and here), ultimately owned by bouncing-sinking Czech Robert Maxwell - who makes Murdoch look honorable
I went to present the idea to Mr Kuttner, for which I was permitted inside Fortress Wapping - this was only two years after the end of the seige and it looked like Guantanamo. He explained kindly to me - I was 21 years old and very wet behind the ears - that he "used to work on newspapers for grown-ups". He was kind enough to confirm my impression that tabloid journalism was already rotten to the core, which had been the theme of a comedy series of the time - as a later one confirmed Parliamentarians' behaviour, and still later spin doctors
Funny, huh? Well, no - because the 1980s programmes were made by the then-independent television companies London Weekend and Yorkshire, which both disappeared as a result of the decision to auction regional ITV in 1990, and then by both Tories and Labour opposition under Tony Blair to allow media cross-ownership in 1994 ahead of the 1996 Broadcasting Act - think of them as also auctioning their political support ahead of the 1997 election that changed 18 years of Tory rule to 13 years of Labour.
The buyer of a London franchise was Michael Green, whose spin doctor was...David Cameron. it all ended horribly for the horrible Green as his franchise got involved in ITV Digital, a failed rival to Murdoch's BSkyB, which had broken the law but thanks to Thatcher survived its merger between Sky and BSB in 1990. Cameron bailed in 2001, but the writing was on the wall for ITV Digital and its monkey (in any case it was a keeptime job until Cameron got into Parliament).
As for David Cameron, he learned not to take on Murdoch but to become best mates. What could go wrong?
The main whistle blower on Cameron's spin-soulmate, Andy Coulson, has today been found dead. Inconvenient truth.
I used to write a lot in the 1990s about media ownership regulation and its corrosive effect on politics and the media, then moved on to the disasters that would befall the Internet if that political-media poison spread into it, due in part to the teaching of Lawrence Lessig and Mark Lemley (nice link to a failed analysis?). It was described by Wu in 2003 as the abandonment of network neutrality. Interesting times...

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