Come Now, There Are No Tabloids In Europe


"The risk of being attacked [by the paper]leads many well-known people in politics, business, sport and showbusiness to agree to take part in the marketing campaigns of the newspaper." That was the key finding of a study released in April and little reported in the media.

What the this particular print organ champions, continues the authors, is "the self-promotion of the paper, with the delivery of information a mere side effect". This means that the sort of journalism championed within its pages "serves a purpose, not for the public, but rather for the … brand."

As such, the paper is more of a vehicle promoting itself, and hardly a newspaper in a traditional sense, concludes the study.

The Otto Brenner Stiftung’s study could have been about the late News of the World, known for its "gotcha" investigations into celebrities of all sorts, and its simplistic, repetitive consumer or political campaigns on behalf of "the people". Instead, the study examined Bild, Europe’s top-selling daily, a rag with a circulation of over three million which is owned by the Axel Springer publishing house.

Bild’s success shows that the News of the World recipe — crime, scandal, sensation, breasts and populist politics — is hardly unique to the United Kingdom. So, as European journalists farewelled the News of the World on Sunday, there was little Schadenfreude in evidence-and more than a little reflection on the future of tabloids, after News Corporation’s Asian and European boss James Murdoch canned the "Screws" on Thursday.

Swedish tabloid Aftonbladet published photos showing a long line of people queuing up for the final edition of the tabloid.

The paper says that although 60 per cent of the newspaper’s readers belonged to the British working class, the paper sold out in less than half an hour in one of London’s most ritzy postcodes, South Kensington — even as many celebrities who’d had their phone hacked by News of the World "celebrated" the closure of the paper.

These same celebrities had been unable to prompt public outrage after denouncing the hacking of their mobile phones over the past two years since the first allegations of phone hacking cropped up, says the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung — which argues that the paper’s closure shows once more the "British sympathy for the underdog".

The centre right daily argues that whereas celebrities had always been seen as "fair game by virtue of their own need for the spotlight," the reports that murder victims and possibly victims of the 2005 London terrorist attacks had also been monitored shifted public sympathy against the newspaper. The FAZ goes on to claim that News of the World — targeting the British working class ever since workers became literate in the late 19th century — had changed: from a paper that had championed the "little people, to one was now against them" thanks to its extensive bugging of crime victims.

Yet even in earlier times the paper had often gone too far while pursuing its much vaunted scoops, argues French centre-left weekly Le Nouvel Observateur. It recalls that the paper became well known in France for its campaign against sex offenders in the early 1990s. The paper published the names and addresses of British paedophiles street by street.

For the Observateur, viewed from France, "this persecution appeared as nauseating as could be, [occurring]at a time where the presumption of innocence no longer applied … and [this]was to have numerous regrettable consequences: the house of an presumed paedophile was burned, and a man was violently attacked" because he resembled a paedophile as pictured in the paper.

Spain’s El País meanwhile comments on the political implications of the hacking case for British PM David Cameron. The Madrid daily says Cameron has been forced to adopt a tone of "contrition", distancing himself from News International’s UK boss Rebekah Brooks and James Murdoch, who’ve been caught up in the phone hacking case. El Pais continues that the scandal surrounding the News of the World is not simply about the bad behaviour of a single paper — but rather has become the symbol of the "manner in which the whole British media, the political class and the police relate to each other," due to Cameron’s employment of former News of the World editor Andy Coulson as his press liaison.

Other European papers have used the phone tapping story to focus attention on domestic political tactics with alleged similarities to those used on Fleet Street.

The Berlusconi family’s Il Giornale says that the "anti-Berlusconi tabloids in Italy" and their friends in the judiciary should reflect on the "lessons in public ethics" to be learned from the phone tapping scandal in London.

Il Giornale asserts that in Italy, just as in the United Kingdom, "the rights of ordinary citizens have been violated," with monitoring of the private affairs of citizens occurring "day after day … inquiry after inquiry". All this digging has apparently been undertaken by an "iron" triangle comprising the judiciary, media and politicians aiming at the "neo-Puritan eradication of the male morale" among the "inhabitants of this country which is too uncivilised and hence too corrupt."

And News of the World is not the only media outlet in the stocks today, with a European Council report criticising media coverage of Roma in Italy, Bulgaria, Romania and Hungary, says Austria’s Die Presse. The report claims that Romanian media, in particular, bear a "heavy responsibility" for encouraging anti-Roma violence.

The Council’s Human Rights Commissioner Thomas Hammarberg says that the European media as a whole, due to its "sensationalism and coloured coverage" has contributed to the demonisation of Europe’s largest minority.

One example in Hammarberg’s report, a Bulgarian report that compared Roma to "cattle herds, wolves and sheep" simultaneously, would surely have struggled to get past the subeditors at the News of the Screws.

Disclaimer: Charles McPhedran writes occasionally for the Australian.

ABOUT THE BEST OF THE REST: It’s a big world out there and plenty of commentators and journalists are writing about it  — but not always in English. And not surprisingly, ideas about big events of the day shift when you move away from the Anglosphere. Best of the Rest is a fortnightly NM feature by Berlin-based journalist Charles McPhedran. Charles reads the news in French, German, Spanish and Portuguese and reports on what the rest of the world is saying about the big stories. 


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