Like pretty much everyone else I have been utterly astonished, horrified and disgusted by the recent “News of the world” hacking allegations. It beggars belief that something so crass and awful could have happened. In pursuit of a gutter press story giving false hope to the parents of a missing girl.
Being a politico, a blogger, a follower of the media and a subscriber to Private Eye I have been following this story with interest for quite some time, and been pretty disappointed that the story didn’t capture the popular imagination a little more.
I think though, that in targeting a murdered girl and doing what the NOTW did in this instance (plus the speculation that the worst is sill to come) I think that has passed. The story has now for me passed the “water cooler” test in work with people not interested in politics discussing the story at length.
However disgusting (and probably criminal) though the treatment of the Dowler family, and all the celebs/politicians hacked, has been this isn’t really the real story for me. The story, is of collusion, political and most worryingly from the police.
The MP Tom Watson has done a fantastic job of bravely campaigning to keep this issue alive (he was himself the victim of some scandalous treatment from the Murdoch press), and making sure that we know what is going on here is much deeper than our Tabloids getting some salacious stories about celebrities from their answer phones.
The point is that top level collusion in politics between the leadership of our main parties and the Murdoch press has become so engrained, so normal, that it barely warrants a mention. People kind of just assume that all politicians will do nothing but prostrate themselves before Murdoch and fight for his affection and support.
It is shameful, embarrassing and as we are seeing with the “Hulture” secretary Jeremy Hunt giving Murdoch what he wants over the BSkyB takeover, dangerously close to political corruption. I don’t think anyone expected Hunt to do anything other than wave the takeover through. After all the Tories “owed” Murdoch and News International after the election…. Basically Murdoch is able to bypass democracy, politics and buy what he wants with money and with influence because of his media empire. This is scandalous, but frankly “old news”.
Much more worrying is the suggestion, that seeming is increasingly likely to be true, that the Police have been involved in active collusion with News International in terms of trying to cover up the investigation into the phone hacking scandal. That journalists have been paying police sources for an age (as Rebekah Brooks admitted to parliament recently) is a well known phenomenon. Though I for one find it unsettling, worrying and just plain wrong, that the police would be prepared to give access to the criminal justice process in exchange for bungs.
But that the Metropolitan Police might have been trying to actively cover up the investigation into News International and the phone hacking is really, really worrying and new. This has shades of OmniCorp running the Police in Robocop and introducing a 4th directive that the execs are above the law! The Met must have known about the Milly Dowler stuff because they had Glen Mulcaire’s records yet they didn’t act and tried time and time again to put the story to bed. The worry has to be that this is at the behest of corporate paymasters.
I think this is the “iceberg” below the surface of the story. And it is maybe looking like the truth is out. I hope so because this kind of development is worrying. And Police corruption, if true, is cancerous and very dangerous.
The whole situation is really worrying. I genuinely believe in the sort of Corinthian ideal of a free press being the “Fourth Estate” of a democratic society. Journalism is so important to us that it cannot be allowed to continue in the way the gutter press in the UK has. Distasteful stories are one thing, but active collusions with the police and politicians, and the distortion of our political and criminal justice systems cannot be tolerated.
I doubt the political will exists to take on the Murdoch press, but I do think the Press Complaints Commission is likely to go, as a sacrificial lamb to show “something” is being done. I have blogged in the past that I have concerns about the idea of state regulation of the media (though to be fair it works pretty well in Broadcasting) but clearly the voluntary code we operate on has been woefully inadequate in terms of dealing the excesses of the British tabloid media.
And as well as the PCC heads will roll, Rebekah Brooks is surely a dead man walking. And in any sane world there would likely to be people within the Metropolitan police in real hot water (though I wouldn’t bet on it). I wonder how far this will go? Perhaps I am a cynic but I don’t think for a second that David Cameron is going to allow a Public Enquiry (which obviously should happen) because big Rupert has him by the short and curlies! One thing is for sure there is a lot of mileage in this story yet.
Well it seems I was wrong on the Public Enquiry. Cameron accepted one at PMQs. Since we are on a roll how about a proper, robust, media plurality law that has “Public interest” at it’s core? One can always dream.
Robert Peston is reporting that the BSkyB takeover is in trouble and might have to get put off. I can’t see it mind I’ll be astonished if by the end of the year the Tories have not given their mate Rupert the gift they promised before the election. The whole thing stinks.