Thursday, 7 July 2011

News International: House of Horrors

It seems the News of the World, long-suspected of phone-hacking to further its gutter-press journalism, may be about to face retribution. Over the last few days, each fresh allegation of eavesdropping has caused widespread horror and disgust, while many in public and political life are calling for a root-and-branch investigation into the tabloid's methods of obtaining information. The NOTW's owner, News International, is currently preparing its defence.

Among the most terrible of the apparent crimes is the hacking of Milly Dowler's cellphone. The 13-year-old vanished in 2002 and was subsequently found murdered. Before her body had been discovered NOTW reporters hacked into her voicemails, deleting some to ensure space for any new messages which might arrive. But the changes, detected on the missing phone by
police, were interpreted as suggesting Milly could still be alive. The false hope and subsequent dispair experienced by those close to the case can't be imagined.

It's also alleged phones were hacked belonging to the parents of murdered Soham schoolgirls Holly Wells and Jessica Chapman. Further targets for the NOTW's reptilian staff have apparently included families of servicemen who died in Iraq and Afghanistan, as well as relatives of people murdered in the 7/7 London bombings. To assist its hacking, the NOTW is alleged to have bribed police officers with cash payments.

Such is the groundswell of revulsion at the NOTW's methods that many of its big advertisers have summarily moved their accounts elsewhere, including Sainsbury's, O2, Asda and Virgin. Unsurprisingly, they've been joined by the Royal British Legion.

Rupert Murdoch, owner of News International, is publicly backing the company's chief executive Rebekah Brooks - a former NOTW editor - and has appointed her to head up co-operation with coming police investigations. This may prove akin to receiving a set of pilot's goggles from Emperor Hirohito, and Ms Brooks is facing increasing calls from outside NI to step down.

In turn, Brooks is attempting to wash her hands of the crisis. Currently she seems to be saying she was on holiday whenever any of the alleged hackings took place, and so didn't know what was going on. Bearing in mind she controls a pan-European communication company, the argument's not terribly persuasive.

News International is no stranger to scandal. Fines for indecency, lawsuits alleging anti-competitive business practices and libel claims are a fact of life for the company, which has been able easily to absorb any financial inconvenience.
But public fury and the allegations of police complicity will ensure the clamour continues for an investigation at the highest level.

And how will David Cameron deal with the outcry? He's long had close personal associations with Rebekah Brooks and of course Andy Coulson, his former PR chief and past NOTW editor. Now we see widespread, determined political lobbying for a thorough enquiry; will the muck raked up affect only Murdoch's empire?

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