Thursday, 7 July 2011

The News of the World scandal: a complete can of worms!

Revised Saturday 9th July:

It all began with a story about a Prince's knee.  Where it will end remains to be seen .....


The closure of the News of the World newspaper has been announced by Media International.  This follows the on-going phone-hacking scandal which has engulfed the paper.  A "timeline" of this may be seen on the BBC website.  In the last few days, major advertisers have been deserting the paper and the Royal British Legion announced that it was severing its links over allegations that relatives of service personnel killed in Iraq and Afghanistan may have had their phones hacked.

This scandal may also have serious implications for the Metropolitan Police who have referred to the IPCC an investigation into alleged payments to officers.

The hacking story has been covered very well by the INFORRM blog and others, notably David Allen Green in The New Statesman and by Adam Wagner on the UK Human Rights Blog in a timely post yesterday (6th July) - "A phone hacking scandal refresher".    Charon QC asked whether directors of News International might be criminally liable under the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act 2000 s.79 - (Consent, connivance etc) - see his post

Another issue is the proposed merger of News Corporation and BSkyB.  At the end of June, Jeremy Hunt - the Culture Secretary - indicated that he was minded to allow this to go ahead though further consultation (relating to "revised undertakings") is reported to have received numerous responses - see Channel 4.  It appears that a final decision by the government may be some time away.  At the very least, the number of responses to the further consultation appears to have brought Jeremy Hunt some breathing space.  Could the government stop the merger?  Legally this is a very tricky question which is the subject of an excellent post on the Head of Legal blog.

See Department of Culture, Media and Sport 

It also appears
that senior government figures have had a close involvement with people from within the various Murdoch businesses.  This suggests that the various dealings were far from being as objective as they ought to be.  See  Bloomberg Business Week which said that for 3 decades Britain's powerful have sought close relationships with Rupert Murdoch and his newspapers. Also, Press TV - "Murdoch case: a long tale of corruption."  It was only relatively recently that it was announced that Jeremy Hunt MP would not be attending a summer party thrown, it seems annually, by Murdoch.  Political survival is now the order of the day!

It appears that two inquiries are to be set up.  The exact legal basis, formal terms and powers of these has yet to be announced.  The Guardian - "Phone hacking: two separate inquiries will look at Police and Press."

Other links of interest:

For an interesting discussion of the various issues arising from the News of the World saga go to Charon QC podcast.  This looks at the situation as it was on Friday 8th July.

The Guardian- "News of the World: shock, tears and anger as staff fear a conspiracy" as well as an item showing video of the proceedings in Parliament - "News of the World denials."

The Independent - "PM must apologise over Andy Coulson" and "Newspaper 'sacrificed' to save one woman"   Coulson was appointed by Cameron as a media adviser and, in May 2010, became Director of Communications at No.10.  He left this post in January 2011.

The Telegraph - "Rebekah Brooks: the human shield for James Murdoch."

CharonQC - "Time to respect Murdoch's need for privacy in Coulson's hour of need."  Quoting from media solicitor Mark Stephens of Finers Stephens Innocent, the question is asked whether, in English law, Murdoch is free to destroy the tabloid's records.   Does this have the potential to hamper the judicial inquiry into the Police announced by David Cameron (The Guardian 8th July)?  For a view that the records should be retained see David Allen Green in The New Statesman

Beneath the Wig - (I heard the News today.  Oh Boy!) - asked whether we get the Press we deserve.

Politics Home - Statement by James Murdoch announcing closure of the News of the World.

The Guardian 9th July - "I am accountable and could have done more, says met Police John Yates."

The Guardian 9th July - "Ashdown warned re Coulson" - (Ashdown probably was, and maybe still is, no lover of the coalition).

Daily Mail 9th July - The Chipping Norton set

However one looks at all of this, here is a story involving serious criminality.  The story will be much to the discomfiture of the government and some of its senior members.  Some opposition politicians will also be unlikely to emerge with untarnished reputations.  The government appears to be hopelessly compromised in relation to the BSkyB merger with News Corporation and probably also in relation to the "fit and proper person" question which is relevant to broadcasting licenses.  Truly a can of worms!

Meanwhile, as the nation's lights go out and gas prices rise inexorably, it is good for the public to know that George Osborne - our millionaire Chancellor of the Exchequer - was able to throw his 40th birthday bash at Dorneywood.  The event was said to be "knee deep" with Murdoch's people - see Peter Oborne's article "Cameron is not out of the sewer: yet"

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