Mark Brophy

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Phone Hacking Scandal Goes to the Heart of Our Nation

The News of The World phone-hacking scandal has exploded in the last week following the ongoing allegations of their illegal practices now extending to non-celebrities generally, and the victims of crime and the bereaved families of dead servicemen specifically. When the phones hacked belonged to celebrities with a secret, no-one cared. For many months after the scandal first broke it was viewed by many, including the police,  as the preserve only of obsessive lefty Murdoch-haters, a non-story. Now, to paraphrase President Obama, there’s not much keeping News International from the pitchforks.

The recent allegations are of course deeply shocking. If you tried to choose a course of actions for a newspaper to take which were most calculated to outrage the general public, you’d do well to beat those revealed in the last few days. Those revelations shine a light on the moral vacuum that seems to have existed within the newspaper at the time. Journalists have long been categorized in the public imagination as untrustworthy and heartless, brutally indifferent to fallout from their actions in their story-chasing zeal. Unfair on most though that is, for such a group to shock so badly shows the scale of the wrongdoing. News of the World journalists didn’t just get into the gutter, they lifted the manhole cover and kept going down the ladder until their boots got dirty. It’s become obvious that there was a widespread problem at the paper, that it wasn’t just the actions of a few rogue operators as was previously asserted. That’s a reflection of the culture of the organisation, a culture of acceptance or perhaps even of requiring their employees to act in this way, whether explicitly stated or not. It’s being whispered that the shocking practices weren’t restricted to News International titles, but whether that is true or not, what the week’s news tells us about News International gives us a picture of that organisation, one that has held pre-eminence of influence with successive governments.

Since 1992, governments and prospective governments have fallen over each other trying to gain anointment by the Kingmaker, Rupert Murdoch. Once in power they have then acted in ways calculated to keep News International onside. Labour and Conservative in turn have both been guilty of this. Governments have passed up justified opportunity to curb and censure a press sector that was frequently hostile to them, purely to safeguard career prospects of both a personal and party nature. Remember that Rebekah Brooks was allowed to slip off the hook in 2003 when she admitted to a Parliamentary Select Committee that her paper had paid police officers for information, even then a criminal offence which a commitee member immediately pointed out. Andy Coulson, sitting alongside her that day, merely stated that they had done it within the law, and everything was alright again. No-one cross-examined to ask how it could be possible to perform a criminal act within the law. Worse, no-one used the admission of criminality as the starting point for a criminal investigation. On the contrary, the police concealed the existence of evidence of criminal acts, all while members of the Met were in the pay of News International.

Politicians’ reasons for courting Murdoch are simple, they feared the influence of his papers turned against them. For government to be directed in its policy by an organisation so twisted, so immoral, so lacking in anything even remotely discernible as principle, is a disgrace. For police to aid that organisation’s employees in ensuring they escaped prosecution for criminal acts is an even bigger scandal than the phone hacking in this case.

Clearly News International became too influential, mainly due to their control of a large section of UK news outlets. Despite this there is still doubt as to whether they will be prevented from extending that control even further by buying 100% of BSkyB. It would seem self-evident that the scale of their control must be reduced. No government should be in thrall to any corporation. No corporation should be so powerful as to become immune to prosecution.

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