I know that the Conservatives are keen on seeing the Phone-hacking story disappear from the news cycle, but on Newsnicht on Thursday Gordon Brewer looked like he was willing the Phonehacking story to disappear (ironically enough, he will have got his wish with the Norwegen terrorist attacks and another inductee to what Mrs Cobain called “The Stupid Club”). While the possible collapse of the Euro and the unfolding crisis in Somalia are weighty news stories, it’s still wrong for politicians and journalists to will us to concentrate on these matters, like stern teachers.
Yet, last weeks events have signalled an end to the first phase of this scandal. It was right that after the Murdoch’s & Rebeckah Brooks appeared before the Media select committee and Cameron made his statement before Parliament that there should be an end of a chapter feel. We now await the police’s findings and any proposed prosecutions. Phone hacking itself will disappear back to the backburner, unless new revelations are unearthed involving NI or more likely from other newspapers like those under Trinity Mirror or the Daily Mail (who lets not forget according to the What Price Privacy Now report were the biggest clients for illegally obtained personal data).
The focus of this story will possibly now shift to the events surrounding the proposed buy-out of BSkyB by NI. Before the scandal broke, Jeremy Hunt was due to wave the bid through – giving NI the green light to bid for the satellite company. All that changed with the scandal and now attention has switched to what conversations went on between Cameron, Hunt & Murdoch since Cable was stripped of his role in December. At the debate on Wednesday, Cameron said that he had no “inappropriate conversations” in relation to this subject. Jeremy Hunt contradicted this by saying that “the discussions the prime minister had on the BSkyB deal were irrelevant”.
It is interesting to note that despite the rush to refer the deal to OFCOM, and the faith everyone places on that regulator regarding a “fit & proper” rule to holding a licence to run a television company. Private Eye have noted that OFCOM have not applied these “fit & proper” rules in the past – most recently in the case of the acquisition of Channel 5 by Britain’s pornographer in chief (and owner of the Daily Star & Daily Express) Richard Desmond. The suspicion here is that OFCOM would have waved this deal through as well
Cameron’s performance last week only really limited the damage to him. Had he suffered as he has done in PMQ’s of late, or had Miliband pitched his response a little better (been a bit more subtle), then the speculation about Cameron’s future may well have grown. As it is, Cameron should be safe until the Conservatives convene for their conference in Manchester, which makes conference season an interesting one. But to return to the point made at the start, yes there are stories that deserve our attention, it’s just that Phonehacking and NI’s attempt to pervert the course of democracy is one of them, and should not be dismissed so easily by people with vested interests.