The resignation of the Downing Street Director of Communications and former News of the World editor Andy Coulson is politically embarassing for David Cameron and raises further questions about the conduct of “News of the World” executives in relation to the “phone hacking” activities of Glenn Mulcaire. This has led to renewed demands for a full, independent, investigation of the entire case.
There is, not surprisingly, very extensive coverage of the case in the “Guardian” – which has pursued the story for a number of years in the face of indifference from most of the mainstream media. Writing on the Media Standards Trust blog, Martin Moore provides a useful summary of the history. He reminds us how much the position has changed since the summer of 2010 when News International appeared to have weathered the phone hacking story storm and had Mr Coulson in Downing Street. He recalls that the publication by the New York Times of its story “Tabloid Hack Attack on the Royals and Beyond” changed the whole tenor of the debate. He recalls the role of the “Guardian’s” Nick Davies in keeping the story alive – with limited support from the “Independent” and the “Financial Times” but almost complete indifference from the rest of the mainstream media.
Martin Moore argues that Mr Coulson’s mistake was to give evidence to the House of Commons in the way he did
“Coulson’s unambiguous evidence to the Commons Select Committee in 2010 certainly helped keep it alive. Asked by the Committee if phone hacking went any further than Clive Goodman (the royal correspondent who was jailed for phone hacking) Coulson said that he was “absolutely sure that Goodman’s was a very unfortunate rogue case”. Asked if he knew anything about phone hacking while he was editor of the paper he said he had no knowledge of what was going on“.
He comments that Mr Coulson’s exit is
“unlikely to quell the energy of those fighting court cases to discover if their phones were hacked. These will trundle on, and with them further evidence of how many people at the News of the World were involved”.
Although the tabloid press ( including Murdoch and Non Murdoch titles ) are minimalist in their coverage, television and radio have covered the background extensively. Last night Channel 4 repeated , on the More 4 channel, the Dispatches programme presented by Peter Oborne called “ Tabloids, Tories and Telephone Hacking“. BBC2’s Newsnight had an lengthy item and interview with Lord Prescott and former “Sunday Times” editor Andrew Neill about the impact of the resignation.
This morning Media Show Presenter Steve Hewlett presented a detailed analysis of the issues and interviewed solicitor Mark Lewis and Andrew Neil on the Today programme, entitled “Telephone Hacking: what did the police know”.
There is a broad consensus among “non-Murdoch” press and commentators that further investigation is now required. On his Telegraph Blog, Peter Oborne highlights a number of areas on which answers are now required, concerning not just Mr Coulson and News International but also the Prime Minister and the Metropolitan Police. He suggests that
The House of Commons Media Culture and Sport Committee need to reopen their enquiry into the phone hacking affair. Some of the evidence presented by Coulson last time he appeared in front of it now makes no sense
Brian Cathcart argues, on the Index on Censorship blog, that News International must be held to account
If James Murdoch wants to convince us that his company should be able to own BSkyB outright, with all the monopolistic opportunities that affords, then he needs to convince us that the company he already runs is a clean one. And before that can happen we need to see what happens to Sienna Miller, Chris Tarrant, Andy Gray, Steve Coogan and the host of others who are in the courts claiming that Murdoch’s paper breached their privacy.
In an article in the “Guardian” he expands on this point, arguing that Mr Coulson’s resignation is “just the start” and that its fall-out “will reach far into our political culture”, reminding us that the tabloid press has, so far ignored the story.
Martin Moore’s blog post looks at the more general issues, he points out that
“Though the story has focused on the News of the World we know (from Operation Motorman) that ‘the illegal trade in confidential personal information’ went much further. The Media Standards Trust has previously supported calls for a proper independent inquiry into the whole problem. Now Coulson is gone there may well be more chance of this happening.
And what are the more general implications for the media? As we have mentioned, the “phone hacking” story has not been taken up by most of the mainstream media. The Guardian has an interesting round up of the coverage in the rest of the press – which shows that most of the press do not draw any more general conclusions from the resignation. There are hard questions to be asked about the effectiveness of the press as a responsible public watchdog when the issues concern their own conduct.