The Phone Hacking Saga
I can’t think that there has been stranger week in Journalism for a very long time. I did some shifts last week in the Scottish News of the World and apart from the distant and unthreatening rumble of the phone hacking scandal – and the understandable resentment of the foot soldiers up here, who I am convinced are not implicated – everything seemed completely normal.
When the the revelations about Milly Dowler and the Soham families were made I was shocked to the core. I worked at the Sunday Times ( a News International Title ) for over fifteen years and I never commissioned or spoke to anyone about hacking into someone’s phone or messages. I never knowingly acted on information which was acquired through this practice. What’s more, I don’t believe The Sunday Times ever did it. Firstly because I would hope that the ethical standards (and the vigilant lawyers) would simply not permit it and secondly because the ‘broadsheet’ papers don’t tend to follow the kind of stories where hacking would be useful. However, such shocking allegations, followed later by those about the hacking of soldier’s phones and 7/7 victim’s, and then complimented by more allegations about paying corrupt policemen with envelopes full of money, must force every journalist to consider what his or her moral parameters are.
Goodbye News of The World
The turmoil surrounding NOTW in the last few days and the speculation about the future of Rebekah Brooks, has been intense. The most obvious question is why the police have taken so long to act on information they received 5 years ago. That, I am sure, will be answered by a judicial inquiry. However, I think the reason NI have been so slow to act on this is because they hoped the investigation would widen and start to implicate other titles. Let’s be clear – the News of The World is not the only paper who have hacked into people’s phones. I think they hoped that if other titles became implicated, the blame would be spread around and the NOTW might escape the full force of public disapproval. That didn’t happen, and with the growing clamour for heads, James Murdoch evidently saw that the situation was irretrievable. Of course closure won’t protect the parent company or the executives involved from further investigation, but it does draw something of a line under it and at least means that the constant drip of revelations won’t have a focal point.
Hello The Sunday Sun
I am sure that this in not how he would have liked it to pan out, but the fact is James Murdoch has never been a great fan of newspapers anyway. He is the closest thing News Corp have to a digital native in their hierachy, and he has been pushing digital ventures since quitting Harvard in 1995. For him newspapers have always been far too analog. Of course, I don’t imagine that he is happy to lose such a profitable title on his watch, but I am sure that the management of News International have examined how they might make the best of these circumstances. More newspapers are moving to seven day operations and – provided the contagion doesn’t spread to The Sun – it would be relatively simple to turn it into a seven day title, with all the associated cost savings. Another alternative is that they shed all those who may have been involved and spend the summer under the radar watching as other Fleet Street legends get tangled up in similar allegations and accusations. In the Autumn they can then launch a shiny new sunday tabloid, completely untainted by scandal, supported by the mighty budgets of a rejuvenated News International and utilising all the best attributes of the NoTW that, sadly have been dragged down by this debacle. Change the name and do ( almost ) the same……
Time will tell on those predictions, but at the moment I am shocked at how low my profession has fallen, ashamed of how victims and their families have been traumatised even further by the actions of journalists and very sorry for the honest and decent people at the News of The World who are about to lose their jobs.