Everyone knows tabloid newspapers are not angels – to a large extent it’s why people buy them, an acceptance that their underhand tactics expose the affairs, drug habits and scandals of the rich and famous. Despite this grudging acceptance of tasteless methods to satisfy a desire for gossip, there’s always been a trend of opinion in British society that has been hostile to the tabloids – in particular those of Rupert Murdoch, The Sun and the News of the World. Whether it’s the ongoing boycott of the Sun in Liverpool for their disgusting coverage of the Hillsborough Disaster, the defiance of printworkers at Wapping or the refusal of those printers to produce copies of the newspaper comparing Arthur Scargill to Hitler during the Miners Strike, there has always been a radical but substantial minority of people in the UK who despise the Sun and NotW for their journalism and politics.
What’s happened in the past two days has gone above and beyond that politicized section of British society. Now even Daily Mail readers are on the same side as The Guardian; appalled by the tactics and (lack of) ethics on the part of NotW. A scandal which has been quietly bubbling away – that of phone hacking – has exploded in News International’s offices with the force of Krakatoa. A Guardian investigation has revealed that NotW hacked into the mobile phone of murdered teenager Milly Dowler, and that in order to listen to all the messages, some were deleted – giving the Dowler family false hope that their daughter was still alive. It’s appalling stuff beyond even the notorious “The Truth” headline of the Sun. And it’s getting even worse – the police have approached the families of the 7/7 victims, Madeline McCann, and the Soham murder victims to tell them that they may also have been the victims of phone hacking.
Gone is the previous depiction of phone hacking commonly circulated in the press – that of an overzealous NotW hack (no pun intended) listening to phone messages in an attempt to discover if premiership footballers or royal family members are shagging their secretaries. The people who have been hacked are those who have never sought fame or fortune, but are the victims of horrific tragedies that NotW – particularly child murder – supposedly rails against. The NotW even interviewed the Dowler family on their daughters murder, while they had simultaneously been hacking their murdered daughters phone. Most devastating of all for NotW is the new allegation that they even hacked the phones of dead soldiers families. This is the same newspaper that regularly condemns any anti-war sentiment as being in league with the Taliban or Saddam Hussein.
Kelvin listens in, sick bastard that he is
Already these revelations have sparked an emergency debate in Westminster with David Cameron backing calls for a public inquiry into the hacking scandal. This is alongside an ongoing Metropolitan police investigation into hacking which has been widely condemned as toothless. Chris Bryant MP – one of those most vociferously camapaigning against phone hacking – detailed how senior figures in the Met were wined and dined by Notw while the enquiry was ongoing in his speech in the House of Commons.
The most shocking example of all is that of Andy Hayman the officer responsible for conducting the inquiry into phone hacking; he later went on to work as a columnist for News International! With that level of “scrutiny” it’s no surprise the original inquiry into phone hacking was dropped earlier this year. It was only a matter of weeks before a new investigation of hacking was opened however, based on the emergence of new evidence. It remains to be seen if this inquiry will be any more thorough than the previous cosy arrangement with the Met.
David Cameron has already pointed to this new investigation, as a way to dilute calls for a public inquiry. While in public he supports one, he has qualified his support saying it must not “prejudice the Metropolitan police’s investigation”. For the Tories this hacking scandal is very close to the knuckle indeed – David Cameron is a close friend of the CEO of News International, Rebekah Brooks. Cameron enjoyed a christmas family lunch with her, a connection that is highly embarrassing to the prime minister given Brooks is alleged to have personally known the private investigator who hacked Milly’s phone. There is also Andy Coulson, former editor of News of the World who resigned after phone hacking was exposed in Notw (even though he knew nothing about it), to immediately move on to work as a considerably less competent Malcolm Tucker (aka Director of Communications) for Number 10, before he resigned again over phone hacking (even though he knew nothing about it). There are many politicians and journalists who do not resign when they have committed the most appalling acts – whereas if we are to believe Andy Coulson he resigns for things he barely even knows about, let alone has responsibility for.
Such is the tide of popular revulsion against NotW that for the first time in decades a serious impediment to Rupert Murdoch’s slow but steady take over of the UK media may have arisen. 50,000 people have in the past 24 hours alone already signed a petition to oppose the takeover of BskyB by Murdoch. Advertisers Ford, Aldi, Cadbury, Halifax, Vauxhall, and Debenhams have all withdrawn their ads from this Sunday’s Notw, and the share price of News International’s stock has also fallen. The tipping point may come this Sunday, where there will be all eyes on the News of the World’s circulation figures to see if the most damaging blow of all may yet come – the desertion of tens of thousands of the newspapers predominantly working class readers in disgust at it’s tactics.