As you will know, Steve Coogan – ‘the Alan Partridge star’, as every newspaper article always adds in parenthesis at this point – has been one of the higher profile celebrity victims of phone hacking by News International. His was one of the initial court cases against the company that, because it would have forced the disclosure of sections of Glenn Mulcaire’s notes (which the Metropolitan Police at the time were insisting contained no usable evidence of illegal activity, even though the same documents are now said to show that literally thousands of people may have been victims of crime), contributed to the slow process of the hacking allegations being taken seriously by the authorities. That process has now gathered pace to include two police investigations, numerous parliamentary reports, and the Leveson Inquiry. Presumably satisfied that his legal action had achieved everything he could reasonably hope for, he settled his case in February 2012 for £40,000 and a statement of apology read out in court.
Coogan was one of the guests on last Friday’s Graham Norton Show, along with Charlize Theron and Jon Hamm.
Even though, like everyone else who tunes in, I mainly watch his show for the lightest of light entertainment, I have to say that I approve of a development that has seen Graham Norton, of late, have occasional serious discussions with his guests – he discussed phone hacking with Hugh Grant when he was on, and a couple of weeks ago led a brief discussion on gay marriage that I alluded to in a previous post. These discussions aren’t full of earth-shattering insights, but the fact he is having them at all as part of an entertainment chat show is a positive thing, I think, since it helps to bring important issues to the attention of people who – because they aren’t deeply sad no-lifers like me – might otherwise not get to hear about them.
On Friday’s show, Norton led another discussion of media ethics, this time kicking off by asking Charlize Theron what it’s like to be the subject of intense media attention; she said that she thought it was unpleasant but bearable when it focussed on her, but that she hated to see her infant son exposed to it. Norton then turned to Steve Coogan, and gave him an opportunity to speak about his own experiences, before asking his two American guests about whether the phone hacking scandal was getting much traction in the US. To be honest, Coogan didn’t speak especially effectively – he was caught halfway between trying to be serious and funny, and is in any case quite awkward as himself – but still managed to make some points about the extent to which he had been warned not to take on Murdoch’s newspapers, and his belief that reform of press regulation is now unavoidable.
It was the next topic of discussion after that section that struck me as really quite odd, since it involved Norton moving on to talk about (and show a clip from) Steve Coogan’s new Alan Partridge series, which he announced was airing on Sky. That’s Sky, the company that is 49% owned by News Corporation (and they wanted to buy outright). That’s News Corporation, the Murdoch company that bears ultimate corporate responsibility for the criminal invasions of privacy suffered by Steve Coogan.
Now possibly this is just me, but if a News Corporation company had invaded my privacy I don’t believe I would want to work for them, and I don’t believe I would want to let them use my work as a way of trying to attract new subscribers to their network. I’m pretty sure, personally, that I wouldn’t want to take their money (except in the form of criminal damages), and that I would want even less to help Mr Murdoch increase his profits.
In fact, even though the closest I ever came to being personally affected by one of Murdoch’s businesses was having to grow up in the climate of hysterical fear and hatred of gay men that his newspapers fostered and encouraged in the 1980s and 90s, I made a resolution with myself a long time ago that I would boycott Mr Murdoch’s business interests as much as was possible. I’ve never bought one of his newspapers – not even one of the ‘respectable’ ones like The Times Literary Supplement – and I’ve never taken out a subscription to Sky (or even Sky Broadband, though I inadvertently kept using for a while a broadband company that had been bought out by them without me realising it). I have bought books from publishers owned by Murdoch, and I’ve paid to see some films made by Fox Studios. I’ve also watched Fox TV shows when they’ve been shown by other broadcasters (like The Simpsons on Channel 4 for example), but since I’m not one of the households with a BARB box I figure I’ve never actually added to the official viewing figures. Anyway, the point is that I’ve taken whatever steps I reasonably can to minimise the extent to which I support Murdoch and News Corp, even though I’ve never been directly targeted by him. The discovery that Steve Coogan, who’s been directly affected, is less fastidious strikes me as quite odd.
I do realise Coogan is in a tricky position, in that he has to sell his services to broadcasters and Sky are a big fish in quite a small pond, but I still find it hard to believe he would have struggled to find another broadcaster prepared to invest in a new series featuring his most popular character. If the BBC were willing to risk Saxondale and Dr Terrible’s House of Horrible (a series that seemingly only I enjoyed), it would seem likely that they could be persuaded to take on the lesser risk of a Partridge series. Even if they weren’t, Channel 4 (the original home of the character) or one of the UKTV channels might have been interested in commissioning something as bankable as Partridge. Failing that, he could have crowd-sourced production funding and distributed the series on the web, streaming adverts alongside to make a profit – there are more than enough Partridge fans in the world to make that a viable proposition. Personally, I think I would want, at the very least, to have explored all of those options before I became part of the Murdoch stable (but maybe he did).
Of course the other possibility is that there’s something unusual about me drawing a connection between all of Murdoch’s various business interests, and thinking that distaste for the activities of News International should automatically lead to a boycott of all his other businesses. Personally, I think that’s the best way of getting his attention (or would be, if more of us did it), but maybe I’m wrong. Certainly, the willingness of The Guardian – the daily newspaper that has done the most to expose the phone hacking scandal – to heavily feature articles about Sky TV shows suggests that it’s me that’s out of step.