The phone hacking story has now dominated the headlines for nearly two weeks. Yesterday was described by the “Guardian” as “Bloody Friday”. First, Rebekah Brooks fell victim to “Alastair Campbell’s Law” – having herself being the story for this period – resigning from her position as Chief Executive of News International. Later on the Chief Executive of Dow Jones, Les Hinton, also resigned. This seemed inevitable after his “one rogue reporter” evidence to the Culture Media and Sport Committee in March 2007 and September 2009.
Then there was Rupert Murdoch’s extraordinary personal apology to the Dowler family – accepted by their solicitor as being “sincere”. This was followed by Mr Murdoch’s personal apology published as an advert in several national newspapers – although this did not make it wholly clear what, exactly, he was apologising for. The apology ends by saying
“In the coming days we will take further concrete steps to resolve these issues and make amends for the damage they have caused. You will hear more from us.”
There has, as yet, been no indication what those “further concrete steps” might be. A number of possibilities have been suggested as being a helpful start to this process:
- The full publication of all the “News of the World” documents relating to hacking – including the News International internal reports on what took place;
- Disclosure of the “confidential settlement” agreements between News International and phone hacking victims which appear to have been designed to “cover up” the story.
- A correction of the public record of the admittedly incorrect and incomplete evidence given by News International to parliament;
- Disclosure of the agreements between News International and Glenn Mulcaire and Clive Goodman – which many observers have suggested include “hush payments”.
Yesterday also saw disclosures which cast light on the relationship between the media and politicians – a dark and so far largely unexplored corner of this story. The Cabinet Office released a list of all editors, proprietors and journalists to meet David Cameron since May 2010. As the “New Statesman” points out, the first press owner who he met was Rupert Murdoch and half of his initial contacts were with “News International”, including a visit to Chequers by Rebekah Brooks.
There are different views as to where the story is going. It is instructive to look at the position of the conservative press. In a leader on 16 July 2011 the “Daily Telegraph” calls hacking “a scandal that has diminished Britain“. In contrast, the “Daily Mail” considers phone-hacking to be a diversion from “the real problems facing Britain” – the financial problems in the Eurozone, the worries over the US’s credit rating, soaring fuel prices at home. The divergence of view is noted in the New Statesman. It remains unclear which view reflects public opinion. However, there is some suspicion that the “Daily Mail” may be concerned about the attention which may be brought to bear on some of its own journalistic practices.
What else might come to light? Well, the next big question is how far did the “hacking, blagging and bribing” culture at the “News of the World” extend to other News International titles and to the rest of Fleet Street? Bearing in mind the fact that the “blagging culture” exposed by Operation Motorman infected the whole of Fleet Street and Mr Jonathan Rees’ well publicised activities on behalf of the Mirror Group in the late 1990s it seems unlikely that other newspapers will emerge unscathed.
In recent days, a number of questions have been raised about phone hacking by the “Daily Mirror”, under the editorship of Piers Morgan. In April 2011 he told the BBC “Media Show” that he had no knowledge of illegal voicemail interception activity although he “heard a lot of rumours that this was more widespread than people were letting on”. However, last week the Guido Fawkes blog drew attention to references to the practice in his published diary. Later, the same blog reported that a number of MPs called on Mr Morgan to give evidence about hacking.
It might be thought that, after burning brightly for a fortnight, the story would now fizzle out – at least until Lord Justice Leveson starts his hearings. However, Mr Murdoch has promised that we will hear more from News International. With the “media silly season” about to open and a variety of journalistic, legal and political angles on the story still be explored it would be unwise to place any bets on a quiet week.