“Omertà” says it all

Here’s a striking piece, well worth a read. Good headline, but the subtitle really stands out: “The omertà of Britain’s press and politicians on phone-hacking amounts to complicity in crime”. No understated English “conspiracy of silence” here. Full red-blooded Sicilian “omertà”! In your face, or what? No shilly-shallying about language mixing either, or worries about possible “dilution” of the English tongue. On the contrary, the choice of vocabulary is clearly deliberate and designed for maximum vigour and effect.

So much for the sociolinguistics/stylistics. Now for the content. Politicians got it in the neck last year for fiddling their expenses. We all remember the uproar. If I recall correctly we have our “ever-vigilant” press to thank for that one. (Wasn’t a disk “leaked”, presumably from one person’s computer to somebody else’s?) And now we’re all talking about the pot calling the kettle black.

Well, who are we, Joe Public, to complain? We’re the ones who buy the “filthy rags” that deal in this stuff. We can expect some brave/dumb fall-guy from the fourth estate to take a ritual hammering on BBC Question Time this week, but who in the audience is going to turn round and address their remarks not to the panel but to the rest of the audience and to us in our homes? We pay the pipers – be they politicians or presspeople. What kind of tunes have we been calling? If there’s been a “conspiracy of silence” it’s one in which the public has been complicit. Time for us all to take a look in the mirror?

Okay, we can work up an emotional lather easily enough. But it’s no use just waving the cut-throat razor in fury, like some second-rate backstreet hoodlum, at the press and the politicians. Have we got the gumption to keep a steady hand when it comes to taking the actual shave ourselves?


About Gordon Wells

Language learner and teacher (English, Gaelic, Hindi and Urdu). Interested in bilingualism and creativity. At home in the Hebrides.

Posted on 07/07/2011, in Uncategorized. Bookmark the permalink. 4 Comments.

  1. Don’t be downcast, Gordon. I think the article (strangely dated tomorrow) overlooks one thing. Of the newspapers Mr Osborne mentions, the Guardian “have covered the story with flair and integrity”, the Independent ditto (although “belatedly”), and the Daily Telegraph has at least done “the minimum”. That leaves The Times, which is owned by Murdoch, and tabloids. You mention the BBC: just try to make a search for “News of the World hacking” on their website and see how many hits you get.

    Thus I neither wave the cut-throat razor in fury at the press, as I don’t think that the “quality” section of it has done all that bad; and if I did wave it at the tabloids, my hand would be steady because not reading them, I don’t call their tunes. And I hope it’s not too naïve to suppose that I’m not the only one.

    • Gordon Wells

      If I sound downcast then I’ve misrepresented myself. True, I don’t particularly care for the way we, the public in general (no doubt with many honourable exceptions) have been so ready to direct fury at politicians in general over the expenses scandal, when expenses-fiddling, to a greater or lesser degree, is probably very widespread – or certainly not the preserve of MPs alone. I actually just wanted to make the point that we can all do our bit to “raise the tone” of public life. I’m not sorry to see the News of the World disappear, but no doubt the “Sun on Sunday” will be along, phoenix-like, in very short order to fill the so-called “gap in the market”. Wouldn’t it be nice if it found its assumed readership’s tastes had also changed?

  2. Oh, I see. It’s funny though, here in the CR it’s the other extreme. Whenever I told anybody about the expense scandal, they were surprised by the British nation getting angry. The general reaction was “Well they’re politicians for Chrissake. Do the British expect them to be honest?”

    • Gordon Wells

      Well, quite. There’s an important difference between “expect” and “want”, isn’t there? And if we really want better behaviour from others we should try modelling it ourselves. That’s sounding rather pious, which is not cool. But there again it is the “do-gooding, sanctimonious” Grauniad which is getting the most plaudits right now for sticking with the story over the years – to the previous scorn of its rivals and competitors. Maybe piety (of a non-religious kind) is making a comeback…

      On general background to the story I found this doing the rounds on Twitter:


      Quite interesting.

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