Phone hacking scandal: Who knew? Loads of us.

Can there any longer be any doubt that News International is a force of evil in the world? (This wasn’t my scheduled subject, but “events dear boy, events.”)

There are all sorts of pictures of perps and victims I could have used to illustrate this - but here's the Murdoch monkey at the top of the tree - the spider at the centre of the web. Unfortunately the bad smell does not come solely from him. There's a strong whiff very much closer to home.

They’re the reason I receive text messages like this:

Hi, I am unable to answer my phone at the moment but if you leave me a message, the News of the World will email it to me later.

 But the appalling behaviour of some journalists is not the most shocking part. What’s really scary is that the omertà of Britain’s press and politicians on phone-hacking amounts to complicity in crime.

More on that below. First a recap.

If you’ve been following developments in Britain, you’ll know that tabloid newspapers have long been hacking into the phones of celebrities and their staff, the UK royal family, police officers, terrorist victims, bereaved relatives of war dead and the then missing but feared dead schoolgirl Milly Dowler – and thereby impeding the investigation into her disappearance and murder. And let’s not forget bribing police officers  and also spying on them on behalf of crime suspects.

You’ll also know that the former chief spin doctor (Andy Coulson, currently on police bail after being arrested on suspicion of bribing police officers) to the current prime minister, who was hired after this scandal began to emerge, is among the prime suspects. And you’ll be aware that the current and previous two prime ministers and their governments have been fearfully cosying up to the phone hacking bosses  for years.

One of the minor characters for whom I feel sorry is the personal assistant who lost her job after her celeb employer got sick of paparazzi seeming to know her every move. Who else could have been continually betraying her secrets and whereabouts but her assistant – who was promptly sacked. Another victim of the phone hackers?

But how come none of this has come out until now? Well, of course it has, in Private Eye magazine and the “lone voice” Guardian newspaper. (Which was risking severe retribution apparently.)

But how, you may ask, has this intolerable situation, much of which has been an open secret amongst the cognescenti, not been deemed, well, intolerable? It immediately reminded me of Peter Oborne’s book The Triumph of the Political Class and his characterisation of politicians of most stripes, senior civil servants, law officers and the media – the in crowd who have more in common and arguably more common interest with each other than their ostensible constituencies amongst the swinish multitude – that’s you and me.

And sure enough, the same Peter Oborne has written a great analysis in the Spectator magazine of how this appalling situation has been permitted to continue. It’s entitled What the papers won’t say  – The omertà of Britain’s press and politicians on phone-hacking amounts to complicity in crime. Here’s a taster from the middle:

So one point is beyond debate. News International’s leading profit centre, the News of the World, was dependent on a very ugly culture of lawbreaking, hacking and impunity. This freewheeling, ask-no-questions attitude spread to other parts of the organisation, such as the Times and the Sunday Times, both of which used have used illegal or unethical techniques. Even more troubling, when senior News International management were confronted with evidence of wrongdoing, the company made false statements and took actions which prevented key evidence from reaching the public domain.

And then let’s skip ahead to Oborne’s damning conclusion:

This should have been one of the great stories of all time. It has almost everything — royalty, police corruption, Downing Street complicity, celebrities by the cartload, Fleet Street at its most evil and disgusting. One day, I guess, it will be turned into a brilliant film, and there will be a compulsive book as well.

The truth is that very few newspapers can declare themselves entirely innocent of buying illegal information from private detectives. A 2006 report by the Information Commissioner gave a snapshot into the affairs of one such ‘detective’, caught in so-called ‘Operation Motorman’. The commissioner’s report found that 305 journalists had been identified ‘as customers driving the illegal trade in confidential personal information’. It named each newspaper group, the number of offences and the number of guilty journalists (see above). But, as the commission observed, coverage of this scandal ‘even in the broadsheets, at the time of publication, was limited’. The same reticence has been seen, until now, over the voicemail-hacking scandal.

By minimising these stories, media groups are coming dangerously close to making a very significant statement: they are essentially part of the same bent system as News International and complicit in its criminality. At heart this is a story about the failure of the British system, which relies on a series of checks and balances to prevent high-level corruption. Each one of them has failed: parliament because MPs feel intimidated by the power of newspapers to expose and destroy them; and opposition, because [Labour party leader] Ed Miliband lacked the moral imagination to escape the News International mindset — until he was forced to confront it all by the sheer horror of the Milly Dowler episode.

That leaves the prime minister. He finally woke up to the kind of company he has been keeping on Tuesday when during his Afghanistan visit he declared the Milly Dowler revelations ‘truly dreadful’. David Cameron has repeatedly displayed an inability to make a distinction between right and wrong. The press ought to have stepped into the breach. Unfortunately, we in Fleet Street have forgotten that the ultimate vindication of journalism is not to intrude into, and destroy, private lives. Nor is it the dance around power, money and social status. It is the fight for truth and decency.

Well worth reading the full version here.

Meanwhile you may be wondering if New International Chief Executive Rebekah Brooks has been fired or arrested yet? The answer to the first of those questions is here at hasrebekahbrooksbeensackedyet.com

As for arch snooper Glenn “Trigger” Mulcaire, there’s more to him than doing journalists’ dirty work for them. Look here, especially if you’re an AFC Wimbledon fan.

So – the News of the World is to close and 200 staff are apparently set to lose their jobs. A cynical manouvre according to Hugh Grant – who as well as cutting a dash with gorgeous ladies and playing a simpering posho in the movies, also managed to turn the tables on ex-News of the World journo Paul McMullan by secretly recording his allegation that   former editor Rebekah Brooks “absolutely” knew about hacking.

Because guess what? Another newspaper in the News International stable will immediately fill the gap left by the soon-to-be-deceased-and-not-missed News of the World. Cost-cutting and streamlining under the guise of showing contrition.

Some advertisers have – for now at least – withdrawn some business from News International. I wonder the ethical considerations are for continued employment there? Nothing to do with me, guv? I wasn’t/am not involved in all those shennanigans? More than my job’s worth to kick up a fuss about it? Just keep your head down and keep earning?

Sometimes self respect and ethical behaviour on the one hand and working for a particular organisation on the other are simply incompatible. A hard choice to make, but a choice nonetheless.

I made it a while ago. It cost me. I could have been part of the big News International family. At a time like this I feel relieved I chose the way I did.

Serious reform is needed in the UK’s mainstream media. Hopefully the worse-than-pointless Press Complaints Commission will be among the first causalties. Will the government go-ahead to the News International full take-over of BSkyB be reversed? (All of a sudden Vince Cable’s short lived “we are at war with News International” line looks wisely prescient.) Will it make much difference anyway?

More difficult will be to be bring back into fashion journalistic integrity. There’s still some of it around. But in terms of “getting ahead” or paying the bills, well… it’s not the easest path.

And as Allan Massie points out in a “leaked memo” published in the Spectator (it’s a good read, the Speccie), the guilty parties can with some legitimacy point the finger at those other guilty parties – their funders. Also known as – the people who buy their newspapers. Which means you, doesn’t it?

Go on then. Do the decent thing and turn yourself in at the nearest police station. Or at the very least start buying a different newspaper, even if it means fewer topless photos and fake health scares for you. Hey – we all have to make sacrifices.

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21 Comments

Filed under media, politics

21 responses to “Phone hacking scandal: Who knew? Loads of us.

  1. Good piece & thanks for all the links to other sources. Quite by chance I bought the Oborne book a few months ago (in a local library clear-out), and now you have prompted me to read it (right after I finish another political classic, Clochemerle!).

  2. Journalistic integrity was inked out long ago. There was a time you could pick up a newspaper and knew it would be accurate, another feature that has disappeared from the headlines.

  3. Many moons ago my father told us that ‘You cannot believe all you read or half you see!’ – He was correct back then and even more so nowadays!

  4. I will stick to Al jazeera! I’m sure this phone hacking scandal is providing an excellent distraction from the “play down Japan N-disaster so we can build our new reactors emails!”

  5. The Patriot Act(200 pages) has given the US Government unprecedented powers to eaves drop, collect and store information and do many more things that are shockingly inconsistent with the ideas of privacy and all sorts of protections we have as individuals in a constitutional democracy. Sometimes I would like the government to spy on me and wire tap me 24 hours a day. Man oh man, will they be disappointed.

    • blackwatertown

      My Granny was releuctant to discuss a wide range of topics, people and places on the phone for fear of who might be listening in. Sometimes she moderated this to just lowering her voice at the potentially suspicious point in the sentence. Give that this included most streets and places in west Belfast, and that that was where she lived,, it made phone conversations hard to follow at times – even a trip to the shops became all cloak and dagger.

  6. 29

    In the 40s I used to sell Sunday papers and I brought them into 2 army camps; the Sunday Graphic, Sunday Dispatch, the Reynolds News and others but not the News of the World. It was not acceptable to the shopkeeper, now I shall never have that opportunity, why do I not feel bereft even though, mathematically I could count myself a regular reader ie once every half century.

  7. Basil Dajani

    Thanks for a great piece and boiling down the key aspects of this complex and sorry saga. I live in a part of east London nicknamed ‘sun city’. I went into a newsagents to buy a copy of the Guardian the other Saturday. On the left there was a pile of at least 80 Sun copies. A pile no doubt replenished regularly. Not a single Guardian. When I asked they said they only purchased two copies as there was ‘no demand’. How depressing I find that. Ultimately, it is the British people that give Murdoch his power.

  8. Great piece with phenomenal links. THANK YOU, you made continued ready easy as spy (oops, Freudian slip — I meant to say “pie”)…

  9. Great piece with phenomenal links. THANK YOU, you made continued reading easy as spy (oops, Freudian slip — I meant to say “pie”)…

  10. blackwatertown

    @ Maxi – Wonder when that was? I think back to the 1880s when the Times newspaper framed Parnell, which was a wee bit before Murdoch came on the scene. (See? I’m older than I look.)
    @ TaylorGooderham – the problem is where to draw the line legally without unduly protecting the powerful and hamstringing the investigators.
    @ Grannymar – good advice. Especially if a heroic dog is involved. Whenever the army highlights the exploits of a courageous canine, you know there’s something dodgy happening elsewhere.
    @ europaspicewolf – good conspiracy theory.
    @ 29 – you’ll just have to go cold turkey on your regular News of the World habit.
    @ Basil – yup – the co-culpits are staring us in the mirror.
    @ holessence – “easy as spy” – like it.

  11. Very interesting how cautious the media are when it comes to exposing their own wrongdoings and misbehaviour. They’re finally being forced to fess up. As you say, whatever happened to the quest for truth and decency, rather than sensation and titillation and celeb-watching?

  12. On that last point, I can cheerfully look myself in the mirror – I haven’t bought or read a newspaper in years. Thanks to the internet, I have full access to all the rolling news and topless woman I could ever want. I am, however, a Sky TV customer, so I’ll be eagerly awaiting for the outcome of the BSkyB bid.

    But back the main cut and thrust of this whole sorry saga, what interests me is exactly how high up and wide ranging this corruption will eventually turn out to be.

  13. i celebrate your freedom to choose. and your choice ;). keep on.

  14. Yes The Whole Thing Is A Complete Mess.It’s Ironic That The Very Bodies That Have Proved Themselves So Weak & Feeble Are Now Puffing Themselves Up & Acting All Strong Now.
    I Hear The Sound Of The Underneath Of Carpets Being Swept!
    But, At Least Murdoch Has Been Knocked Back (for the time being?)

  15. Well I’ll be danged. Never thought there could be such insidious and invasive contagion of ethics across disciplines from journalists to judges. I am sure the roots have spread internationally like everything else. All of this time we were looking sideways at Muslims and the bomber is within. Imagine. The US passed the Patriot Act that allows the government to hack our phones in the name of national security.

    As for journalism, the laws governing how many media outlets one company can own need revision. So do our morals.

    • blackwatertown

      Funnily enough, the Labour leader is now proposing just that – revising the ownership laws. Do you have his ear?

  16. Tod

    Very nice blog.
    Good content and comments.

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