How much do the Brits care about the phone hacking scandal? Not the Brits at the Guardian, or the Brits at the BBC, or for that matter the various Brits who are quoted in news media all over the world by journalists enthralled by the biggest media scandal in years.
No—how much does the broader British population care about the phone hacking scandal?
At the moment, they seem to care rather a lot—if you go by Google Trends’ mapping of search terms; they care about “phone hacking” as much as they do about “David Beckham”, my random choice of a baseline celebrity.
That popular interest lends extra importance and extra impetus to the current debate over the whole News of the World/News International/News Corporation phone hacking scandal. Right now, it is not simply the chattering classes, the Westminster crowd, and people in London newsrooms who care about this—it is a much wider audience, an audience of people who will (because they have lives to live) rarely pause for as much as a moment to consider journalistic ethics, media reform, or the relations between politicians and the press.
As long as that audience is there—and I’m not sure that will last long—the scandal may represent not only enormous damage done to the image of the Murdoch family, their closest associates and the corporate empire they have built, the British politicians who have too often seemed subservient to them, and the police officers who have turned out to be paid by them.
It also represents a real opportunity to reform media regulation and professional practice in the United Kingdom on the basis of something more than the usual suspects arguing things out amongst themselves and thus perhaps begin to address the real crisis of confidence that exist between the British population and institutions ranging from parties to the press.
As long as the audience interest is there, it is not simply the case that a majority of those who pollsters can induce into opining think News Corporation has handled the situation badly, that Prime Minister David Cameron has handled the situation badly, and that the police has handled the situation badly—but in fact very large numbers of people who would normally not have much of an opinion at all on such matters. And as long as they are paying attention, there is thus, perhaps, a slim chance of doing things right and regaining some of their trust.