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.”)
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, 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.