I'm currently working on a book written by journalist Martin Hickman and a British member of parliament, Tom Watson. "Dial M for Murdoch" tells the almost unbelievable story of the rise and fall of the News International empire and its eventually corrupt, dirty, cynical drive for power and profits.
Coincidentally a relatively small scandal has recently broken in Australia. A pair of "presenters" at an insignificant radio station decided to telephone the hospital where the Duchess of Cambridge was being cared for. They also decided to pretend to be the Queen and Prince Charles, and see how far they got before being caught out. They recorded the call. Their deception was juvenile and ridiculous, their accents absurd, but somehow they got through the barriers and were apparently given information they shouldn't have.
The consequences were appalling. A nurse died of shame. Her husband and children are devastated. The hospital is embarrassed. The guilty pair have apologised and have appeared on television in tears, insisting that they didn't mean any harm. Of course they didn't. It was a prank. They did nothing illegal. They didn't foresee any consequences. The radio station management had checked the recording and okayed it for broadcasting. So it wasn't their fault.
The point of the whole silly business was about ratings and therefore profit. It's done all the time. Anything to make a splash, catch the reader's or listener's attention, collect followers, sell stuff, make money. And most of the time it's legitimate, even if it's sometimes also distasteful and vulgar.
Well, that's pretty much how News International went about things too. Has no one noticed a connection between something like that harmless prank to boost ratings and what Rupert Murdoch's corrupt and toxic empire eventually stood for? Information gathering about people in the news – juicy little titbits about royals and film stars – to increase circulation and make money escalated from scratching around legitimate sources to spying, hounding, hacking phones, bullying, bribing, blackmailing, intimidating, perverting the course of justice and the rest of the huge, wriggling, maggoty mess.
The slippery slope can start with nothing very much but lead to ruin for a lot of people, just like the Murdoch empire. It's well sign-posted, and could well start with "I didn't mean any harm".