It’s an on-going saga stretching back to 2000 and since then it has affected many people from celebrities to politicians, potentially multiple newspapers and even popped across the pond to America. As I write this Milly Dowler’s parents are giving evidence to the Leveson inquiry; a public inquiry in to the so-called “phone hacking scandal” and media integrity. Others to testify include: Steve Coogan, Hugh Grant, J K Rowling, Gerry and Kate McCann, Anne Diamond, Charlotte Church and many others.
Early enquiries came to nothing and it was not until it was uncovered that phone hacking had been targeted at dead soldiers families, victims of the 7/7 bombings and school girl Milly Dowler that action was taken in response to public outcry and the 168 year old News of the World closed down.
We all know roughly what happened so, what we really need to ask is; how was this allowed to happen? At the heart of this issue is the fact that newspapers are self-regulatory through the PCC (press complaints commission) which is unable to even enforce its judgements. Fundamentally, you don’t bite the hand that feeds you and the press funds the PCC. Whilst freedom of speech is also an important issue; the press cannot be allowed to break the law and get away with it. Clearly self-regulation does not work.
Another issue we need to discuss is media ownership. Outfoxed: Rupert Murdoch’s War on Journalism is one documentary which really makes clear Murdoch’s influence and reach in to the world media and claims (take with a pinch of salt) that his empire reaches 2/3rds of the world population through his 9 satellite TV networks, 100 cable channels, 175 newspapers, 40 book imprints, 40 TV stations and 1 movie studio. He reaches 300 million alone in Asia.
His influence stretches in to UK politics and he has had close relationships with a number of Prime Ministers. This influence is worrying in a democracy where the majority are supposed to have the say; not one individual.
This is not the first time, nor probably the last, that Murdoch’s empire has been at the heart of controversy. The Sun scored an own goal in 1989 when it claimed that Liverpool FC fans, and I quote, “urinated on the brave cops” and “picked pockets of victims” during the Hillsborough disaster in which 96 people died. Clearly this was untrue and a campaign against The Sun quickly materialised. To this day The Sun has low sales within Liverpool and Liverpool FC fans country wide shun the paper.
Many former employees of Fox News commented on their experiences whilst working there in Outfoxed. Larry Johnson, a former Fox News contributor, described the structure of Fox News as a “dictatorship” and Frank O’Donnell, a Fox News producer, stated it was made clear to them that their every action was being watched by those at the top. It strikes me as odd therefore, that Rebekah Brooks and Andy Coulston claim they knew nothing about phone hacking and other questionable practices at the News of the World. Especially since Rebekah Brooks did admit to knowing about the bribing of police officers as early as March 2003.
Really, when such a lack of ethics inhabits a good deal of the Murdoch empire, should we even be surprised the phone hacking scandal happened?