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Saturday, April 09, 2011

Moment of truth for News International

If the Murdoch media empire think that an admission that it was responsible for the hacking of the phones of public figures ranging from a former member of the Cabinet to a Hollywood actress together with an offer of compensation to victims is the end to the affair then I believe that they are mistaken.

They above all others have been responsible for the creation of the 24 hours, seven day a week news cycle in which stories like this grow to fill the available broadcasting space, so they should know that there are plenty of twists and turns to come.

The Independent is right when it says that the acceptance of liability on a grand scale has implications which stretch across the Atlantic to the heart of News Corporation:

The chief executive of NI, Rebekah Brooks, is also damaged by yesterday's admission. She not only has a responsibility for the NOTW, but edited the newspaper between 2000 and 2003. She denies knowing about phone-hacking when it was taking place. Yesterday's statement from NI was pointedly headed "2004-2006", a period throughout which Andy Coulson edited the paper. Coulson lost his job, then had to quit as director of communications at Downing Street, and has told detectives that he was unaware of a hacking culture under his editorship. The confirmation of eight further cases – with the certainty of more to come – threatens to expose other members of his newsroom and undermine his claim to MPs that Goodman was a "rogue case".

The current editor of the NOTW, Colin Myler, must be embarrassed by yesterday's statement. In the wake of Goodman's conviction, Myler was put in charge of an investigation into the extent of hacking at the paper. Two years later he told MPs that he had studied 2,500 emails, yet had uncovered "no evidence" that required further action. But in some cases, courts have heard allegations that other NOTW journalists were party to the hacking process.

Last week, two NOTW figures, the former head of the newsroom Ian Edmondson (who has been sacked by NI) and the current chief reporter, Neville Thurlbeck, were arrested on suspicion of conspiring to access the voicemails of public figures.

There are a number of politicians who, quite rightly, do not want to let this go. If anything this latest twist will open the door to further police investigations and possibly further arrests and prosecutions. I would not be surprised if MPs decide to recall witnesses or start a further investigation themselves. And then there is the question as to whether other newspapers outside News International ever used these methods.

The lack of scrutiny and accountability within the media has been a problem for our democracy for too long. Now we have the opportunity to put that right.
It could get worse for Murdoch yet.(Pauses to wipe away a tear.)As somebody pointed out on Today this morning, anybody who left a message for one of NOWs victims has also had their privacy invaded. Cue many more people contacting m'learned friends...
But there is no right to privacy under English law.
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