PONDERING: Interesting Times at the News of the World

Tuesday, July 19, 2011 13:00
Posted in category Ponderings

Rupert MurdochInteresting times afoot.

Dennis Potter must be smiling from heaven.

The Murdoch scandal is only just beginning to permeate the USA. We in Britain have watched it unfold, our jaws gaping, and every day when we think, “Oh well, that’s over now,” something else equally jaw-dropping happens. And it’s important to the publishing community.

Why? Because Murdoch is the major shareholder, founder, and head honcho of NewsCorp, News International. He owns the London Times, the Wall Street Journal, scads of other newspapers the world over – and Harper Collins publishers. This scandal is now threatening to bring the whole of his organisation tumbling down. So keep an eye on it. In any case, I suspect America will soon be as mired in it as we are. If you’re in Australia, you already know about Murdoch, because that’s where he started. If you’re in Canada, and you’re feeling smug, don’t. Just check the holdings.

I’ll start at the beginning, as the story unfolded. On the 23rd of June, Levi Bellfield was found guilty of murdering 13-year-old Millie Dowler in 2002. In the UK, while a case is sub judice, the press are only allowed to report on the case and not comment. But after the conviction, it came out that when the police were looking for Millie, they found her phone. They kept it topped up because they hoped she or her kidnapper would get in touch. But the texts filled up. And someone unauthorised had hacked into the phone and removed texts so they could do so. Repeat and think about that. Someone had invaded a grief-stricken family’s privacy and possibly impeded a police investigation. It was traced to a former Private Investigator who, a few years before, had been found guilty of hacking into the phones of several celebrities.

And here’s the first twist. One of the people who helped to expose the PI had been Hugh Grant. That’s right, Hugh Grant, the actor. He’d secretly recorded a conversation he’d had with the PI where he’d confessed to hacking the phones.

The people concerned were journalists working for a Sunday rag, The News of the World. Sex, sin, and sales. Owned by the Murdoch Empire. Nobody had bothered much about the hacking, because it had been celebs who had been the victims. Or so it was thought. Hugh Grant hadn’t seen why celebrities should have their rights infringed, and so he’d decided to do something about it. Go, Hugh.

At the time, the editor of The News of the World had been one Rebekah Wade, now Rebekah Brooks. She had since been promoted to Chief Executive of News International, and she was one of Rupert Murdoch’s inner circle. But she refused to resign, and Murdoch supported her. She claimed she knew nothing about the hacking of Millie Dowler’s phone. Wade had been succeeded as editor of The News of the World by one Andy Coulson. Remember that name. He’ll turn up again.

Then it came out that not only had Millie Dowler’s phone been hacked, but the phones belonging to one of the parents in another notorious and horrible murder case, the phones of the families of people killed in the 7/7 terrorist bombing in London, the phones of parents of soldiers killed in Afghanistan – and more. This was getting worse than nasty, it was getting evil.

Andy Coulson had left his job with News International to work for the then leader of the Conservative Party, David Cameron. The David Cameron who is now Britain’s Prime Minister. There is also an ex News International person working for the leader of the Opposition, Ed Milliband. So the corruption spreads. Or, I should say, the possible corruption. But Coulson was arrested as part of the investigation.

By now, terrorists could have walked up to 10 Downing Street, knocked on the door and said, “We’re tired of this shit. Let’s work out a peace plan” and they would have received a passing mention in the news. The BBC, which as far as we know is Murdoch-free, has been going nuts. But with every day that passes, something new turns up.

The second largest shareholder in News International, a Saudi prince who never gives interviews, gave an interview. He told the reporter that he supported Rupert Murdoch and his son James, but he had no time for Rebekah Brooks and she should resign. The next day, she obediently resigned. And then she was arrested. By appointment, no less. We should all have the police make an appointment to arrest us.

And it’s getting worse. Now the operations of The News of the World came under closer scrutiny. In a Parliamentary Committee some time back, Brooks had admitted that occasionally they paid the police for information. Whoa. So the police were involved. And then the most important police officer in the UK, the Commissioner of the Metropolitan Police, Sir Paul Stephenson, resigned.

A Senator in the US has called for an enquiry into Murdoch’s activities in the US. And don’t forget, Murdoch’s corporation owns the Fox network, as they own the huge satellite and cable network in Europe, Sky.

Rupert Murdoch was about to take ownership of BSkyB, and he was being allowed to do so. Now he’s been forced to stop doing that.

That’s where it stands of the time of this writing. This is like the pebble dropping in the pool and spreading ripples. We’re in for a tsunami, and it will affect the publishing industry profoundly. Somebody important didn’t want Murdoch to gain control of BSkyB, someone who knew what was going on. You couldn’t make this stuff up. No, really, you couldn’t. You’d get notes from your editor, “This doesn’t seem believable.”

In the meantime, enjoy Hugh Grant on the BBC’s “Question Time,” a program of serious political debate. Go, Hugh.

Dennis Potter was right.

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