It has taken four years to come to some sort of denouement but on Monday night the whole phone-hacking scandal exploded out of the Westminster bubble with the revelations that the private eye Glenn Mulcare hacked into the mobile phone of Milly Dowler, days after she went missing. Yesterday the banks burst as revelation came after revelation, with other victims of crimes finding that they too had their phones hacked by Mr Mulcare. The revelations have proved to be so shocking, that the News International Chief Executive, Rebekah Brooks has a new nickname. Toast.
The sense that the red top tabloids are out of control, in particular the News of the Screws, is not new. We have been here before urging controls on the conduct of the press. Remember the days after the death of the Princess of Wales. The press acted contrite, and the mid market tabloids vowed to never use pictures from paparazzi again. Well that lasted didn’t it. This isn’t very different, remember the public weren’t interested when it was the likes of Sienna Miller and Hugh Grant being hacked. After all, they are celebrities, they are fair game aren’t they? They might have very famous jobs, but that does not make them fair game.
People have said that this is the product of a macho news-room mentality. Sorry, but all news-rooms have a macho mentality. Kelvin MacKenzie was no shrinking violet when he edited The S*n from 1981 onwards, while several of today’s editors have a reputation for being serious swearers. What this is a product of is the voracious appetite for flim flam & gossip dressed up as news, cleaned up and put out there in a very short space of time with very little time spent checking.
What is ironic is how this has blown up so soon since the controversy surrounding Super-injunctions was news. As we have discussed before, the stories being pursued by the red-tops were very much of the “no sex please” variety, the stories very much in the public interest were ignored. This mind-set is very much in evidence here, and does the case for greater press freedoms no favours.
The other great irony is that this has exploded just as deliberations are due to end regarding News International’s proposed buy-out of BSkyB. There are two on-line petitions running against this proposed sale (see the links below to 38degrees and Avaaz petitions). I think that News International have shown themselves to be unfit for full ownership of this company. However I think that when Jeremy Hunt announces his decision, he will announce that he has no objections to NI buying BSkyB. He’ll fluster and bluster his way through, but the real reasons are obvious. Cameron still owes Murdoch for The S*n’s support at the last elections. He and Hunt wrote columns in the summer of 2009 promising to curb the BBC and to abolish OFCOM. The BBC have been curbed, through cuts to funding. OFCOM however survives, so the Digger probably feels that this particular chip should be cashed instead.
Yet Milliband the Younger is also tainted by association. He has been on the attack for the past couple of days, but with all the conviction of a huffy teenager being torn away from his Playstation. Perhaps it was the influence of his Spin Doctor, the former News International employee Tom Baldwin. He was perfectly happy to attack Brooks – a fan of Blair – but pulled his punches today at PMQ’s.
Murdoch, Cameron, Hunt, Brooks and to a certain extent Milliband make up a powerful quintet. All more or less would like this to go away, Cameron has already announced an inquiry – a sure-fire way to kick the subject into the long grass. The Independent has said that this is the opportunity to curb Murdoch’s powers. Bearing in mind how much influence Murdoch still holds which is less than what Cameron & Milliband think he has, I suspect that those two will still try to keep the Digger onside. Things will change because of this, Brooks might be a casualty. But as the saying goes, the more things change the more things stay the same.