News International Phone Hacking Scandal: The Runaway Train That Even Rupert Murdoch Can’t StopJuly 11, 2011
Now I don’t know about you, but when I first heard about this phone hacking scandal a few months ago, I didn’t pay that much attention to it. It seemed to be about celebrities and politicians, who are more than capable, and usually have the money and influence, to sort it out. Sienna Miller, being young, blonde and pretty, and therefore worthy of great media attention, was to receive some compensation with others to follow. That’s nice for her, I thought, but nothing to do with me, guv. It’s not my world. But then, last week, the game changed.
It was revealed that a private detective, paid by the News of The World had hacked into the phone of Milly Dowler, a young girl who in 2002 disappeared and was found dead six months later. Her killer has just been put away, but the case could’ve been jeopardised, because not only did this man hack into the phone, he deleted some of the voicemail messages once her inbox was full, giving the poor family false hope that she was still alive. This was no longer about some celebrity: it was about one of us.
Rebakah Brooks, a doppelganger of the actress and comedienne Catherine Tate, was in charge at the time. There were calls for her to quit, but she declared she was as shocked as everyone else to know of the methods used to gain information for her paper and stood her ground. I thought editors were supposed to oversee a publication and would therefore have that kind of information, but anyway, moving on. Backed up by Rupert Murdoch himself, she was going nowhere. More targets were revealed each one more outrageous than the last: the family of the Soham girls, some of the families of the 7/7 victims and the families of soldiers killed in Iraq and Afghanistan. What useful information these hacks were hoping to get was beyond the comprehension of the general public, and truly beyond the pale. The outcry had reached such a pitch, with advertisers pulling out and Facebook and Twitter going into meltdown, that James Murdoch, son of Rupert, did what anyone would’ve had to do, faced with an infected limb beyond saving: he performed a swift and brutal amputation. By Thursday afternoon news broke that The News of The World was to publish its final issue that weekend. No one expected it, particularly the journalists. A paper was to fold; journalists were to lose their jobs; Rebekah Brooks was to keep hers.
More revelations, including some police in the Met being paid to give up information for the NOTW, was making for a very toxic soup. And that was where it was left when I went for my lovely weekend away from London, where the only thing to trouble me was the sound of BBC radio 4. I reached Waterloo this afternoon to be hit in the face by more revelations of phone and email hacking. Apparently some royal protection officers were paid to gather information about the royal family. I thought we reached the apogee of royal information when it was revealed a few years ago that the queen kept her royal cornflakes in Tupperware containers: what else do we need to know?! By the time I reached home there was a debate about the scandal in the House of Commons on the radio and television. It was looking like the BSkyB takeover was to be delayed, or at least diverted from the politicians to the Competition Commission. Then, just as I was trying to digest all this information, The Guardian website revealed that our former prime minister Gordon Brown had his personal information dug into by another News International paper. This included pretending to be Brown to gain his bank account details and obtaining medical records of one of his children who has Cystic Fibrosis… and the scum continues to rise.
There has been some fun within the mire. There was a report in The Guardian and the Metro about the NOTW crossword compilers. Although she had made an order that the paper be gone through with a fine-tooth comb for any hidden messages, they managed to make some very pointed clues and answers in relation to Rebekah Brooks in the last crossword for the last issue of the NOTW. Well done, guys! Makes me wish I’d bought that last issue now, even though it’s a paper I’d rather wipe my arse with than sully my eyes. Speaking of Mrs Brooks: at the time of writing, she’s still in her job. Why? Is it because she’s the firewall to shield the Murdoch family from the baying public, the faux-disgusted politicians who once thought Murdoch to be a great ally, or the very angry journalists who are now staring down the barrel of that gun called unemployment? Or does she know where bodies are buried and is being kept very close indeed? Or maybe they just like her very, very much.
I couldn’t write anywhere near as fast as the revelations that seem to appear hourly at the moment, so I’ll leave it there. But I will say this: perhaps we need to look at ourselves as a nation: would these things have occurred if we weren’t so ready to lap up the stories? The sales figures showed we had an appetite for it, even taking into account the steady decline in newspaper sales. Can other countries qualify for sainthood in newspaper terms, or do they have as much tat as we do? What say you?