It’s the story that won’t go away. As Britain’s two most senior police officers quit and James Murdoch’s position as BSkyB executive chairman comes under fire, it’s reasonable to ask: where will this end?
It now seems scarcely believable that since The Guardian’s Nick Davies reported that News of the World journalists had accessed the voicemails of murdered schoolgirl Milly Dowler on July 4 that Rebekah Brooks is arrested, News Corp’s Sky deal is off, BSkyB is genuinely considering asking James Murdoch to stand down (so says Robert Peston) and we may be witnessing the end of an era of Murdochian media dominance.
Tonight the news emerged that former News of the World (NOTW) reporter Sean Hoare – who was the first to allege that former editor and Tory spin doctor Andy Coulson knew about phone hacking – was found dead at his home, although it’s unclear how he died.
Things are moving so fast I’ll leave it to others to provide minute by minute accounts but here are five thoughts that News International and other publishers may want to think on…
1.The worst is yet to come
We have to assume that more revelations are on the way from News International and indeed from other UK newspaper companies. With three police and parliamentary inquiries underway and a police investigation now finally gathering steam, expect the worst of the scandal to be revealed in the weeks and months to come.
2. It’s not just NOTW that hacked phones
Anyone that has spent time at the apex of red-top journalism in London will know that nefarious activity went on, on a reguar basis. I spoke to a journalist in 2007, with experience of working for more than one title, who said blagging and hacking were commonplace.
He spoke of a newsroom culture where reporters – then, as now, commonly employed on a rolling month-to-month basis – were sacked on the spot for not coming up with enough stories. The same culture that professional phone hacker Glenn Mulcaire said pushed staff to extreme measures.
The public inquiries should uncover wrong-doing at several Fleet Street papers if they are run properly. The NOTW shut down, so how will the others respond?
3. Phone hacking is only one deplorable press tactic
Paying police officers for information, illegally intercepting phone messages and “blagging” to get someone’s personal details are just some of the things reporters do they’d rather you didn’t know about.
How about blackmail? How about fabricating entire stories? Suppressing or promoting stories to suit the egos and business interests of friends and family? A culture of fear and bullying in newsrooms? Or more generally, settling personal scores with famous figures in politics and entertainment because of previous slights or altercations, like a mafioso wronged by a rival? All this goes on, and more. You ain’t seen nothing yet.
(It seems customary to point out that, obviously, not all journalists are guilty of this stuff – but I wouldn’t say the above are rare as hen’s teeth in national newspaper offices either).
4. Much of the murodochs’ propaganda on the importance of news is nonsense
You could be forgiven for thinking that Rupert Murdoch loves his news brands. This is him speaking in 2008 (via Adrian Monck): “The news business is very personal for me. For more than a half century, newspapers have been at the heart of my business. If I am sceptical about the pessimists today, it’s because of a simple reason: I have heard their morose soothsaying many times before.”
Then came the paywalls for The Times, Sunday Times and, yes, the News of the World – big investments costing millions of pounds. The future is digital and paid-for, says Rupert senior. But when it comes down to it, the reality is that his news brands are expendable when a greater prize is at stake, namely BSkyB.
Murdoch closed the NOTW under US boardroom pressure when it looked like the Sky deal and Brooks’ career was under threat. In the end he lost all three.
5. Sundays are duller without NOTW
As I wrote for CNN.com recently, “News of the Screws” was part of a long-standing British tradition of passing on grizzly, salacious gossip. The papers trying to take over it’s mantle as the people’s Sunday read of choice are doing a fairly bad job of it, as Roy Greenslade points out.