To anyone that has been following the modus operandi of the British gutter press for the last few years or so, the news that the England hotel at The Grove Hotel at Chandler’s Cross, near Watford in Hertfordshire was bugged prior to their friendly match against Egypt will come as little surprise. In 2007, the News of the World’s royal editor Clive Goodman and private investigator Glenn Mulcaire were jailed after they were caught – and admitted – tapping the telephones of members of the royal staff. A cross-party parliamentary committee investigating it accused the staff of News International of “collective amnesia” over the matter and stated that it was “inconceivable” that no-one other than those imprisoned knew of what was going on and accused the management of the newpaper of “deliberate obfuscation” over the matter.
In the case of the match between England and Egypt, it wasn’t the papers themselves doing the bugging, for once.Someone else – knowing that there is a ready market for muck to spread about the England team – has done it and offered it for sale to the press. The fact that the Football Association has passed the matter straight to lawyers who have already warned the press that they would be breaking both the Data Protection Act and the Press Complaints Commission’s code of conduct seems to indicate that whatever was picked up by the bugging would create enough waves to sell a few more scandal rags and, as they always do, if such a story was to go public, they would defend themselves with some woolly and disingenuous rubbish about “public interest”. Replace the word “interest” with the word “prurience” and we are starting to get some way closer to the truth.
The reaction of the online versions of today’s newspapers says a lot about their attitude towards the story. The Daily Star, which which hinted at the content of the conversations without reproducing them, has already been contacted independently by the FA’s lawyers requesting information about who it was that passed the information to the newspaper. Its football page this evening makes no reference to the matter, but it is writ large on the front page of the news site, with the paper trying to paint itself into the white corner by stating that, “Insiders see the recording as a blatant attempt to try to sabotage England’s chances this summer”. It may be worth asking the question of who exactly is doing the sabotaging here – those that behave like this, or those that create the culture in which behaving like this has a market value?
The amount of space given to the story on other sites is also telling. The Guardian and The Independent both lead with it, but it is missing from the football page of The Sun and is the lead story on its news page instead, although its comment section doesn’t see fit to pass comment upon it, and The Mirror relegates it to its football pages. The Times, which straddles the curious divide between being owned by News International yet still maintaining the values of a quality newspaper, manages a Q&A session with its senior football writer Oliver Kay on the matter, and his thoughts on the subject seem to sum up the newspapers’ absolute blind spot when it comes to this sort of thing:
Some people have said the media are to blame for disrupting England in a World Cup year. Is that fair?
The confidential discussions involving the England manager and his squad are believed to have been recorded by a member of the public acting alone. Whoever this person is, they thought they could sell the tape’s contents to a newspaper for a lot of money. But no newspaper has taken up the offer of publishing these conversations, which have been described as “dynamite”. This one certainly can’t be blamed on the media and I personally have no interest in the private lives of John Terry and Ashley Cole. But the reality of our celebrity-obsessed culture is that these things sell newspapers and the public demand for these types of stories is overwhelming.
Kay goes on to claim that this story will not make Fabio Capello reconsider whether he wants to look elsewhere for work after the tournament (even though his displeasure at the behaviour of both the press and some of his players is well established and, while he did eventually turn them down, he certainly met with officials of the Russian Football Association to discuss their vacant coaching position) and that it is “possible that all that negativity helped to promote a siege mentality within their camp”. Is he suggesting that the press trampling all over any notion of privacy might actually help England win the World Cup? Because it certainly sounds like it and, in all honesty, people in the employ of News International really shouldn’t be trying to take the moral high-ground over anything relating to invasion of privacy at the moment.
When the John Terry story broke a couple of weeks ago, this site commented glumly that, “the interests of the scandal rags may cause collateral damage in damaging their chances of winning the World Cup, and this particular section of the press couldn’t give a damn whether they do or not”. There is no great pleasure to be saying, “I told you so” on this matter, particularly as there will undoubtedly be further revelations before the summer. Objections to their behaviour will, of course, be ignored or brushed aside with platitudes about “the public interest”. Once the tournament starts, though, they will become the biggest flag-wavers (and, as was season with the dismal “E.A.S.Y” headline the morning after the draw for the finals, frequently the most objectionable ones) of all for the team. Their utter, rank hypocrisy would be stunning were it not so unsurprising.