What’s the Big Deal?

In today’s New Matilda, Mark Fletcher asks, has News Limited done anything wrong? For those looking for a neat summary of why the Hackgate story is such a big deal, not just in the UK but for the media in general, look no further than a piece by the Columbia Journalism Review. We recommend reading the whole piece, but here are the key points:

“For starters, executives, editors, and reporters at News Corp.’s UK unit have: bribed the police; illegally hacked thousands of people’s phones, including a 13-year-old then-missing murder victim’s; tampered with evidence while the victim was still missing. They interfered with a second murder investigation; misled police and Parliament, repeatedly, when questioned about these activities; knowingly employed an ax-murder suspect who had been convicted and imprisoned for planting cocaine on an innocent woman in a divorce case; paid millions of dollars to victims explicitly in exchange for their silence; paid large sums to former employees after they had been convicted of crimes committed at the behest of News Corporation employees; continued to pay for convicted former employees’ high-powered lawyers. It has further been revealed that a senior News International executive deleted millions of emails in an ‘apparent attempt to obstruct Scotland Yard’s inquiry’; hid the contents of a top journalist’s desk after he was arrested; stuffed documents into trash bags and took them away as detectives came into the office to investigate; put the scandal’s lead police investigator, whose inquiry was a bad joke, on the News Corp. payroll with a plum columnist job.”

How did the constabulary react? The CJR piece says the police “stuffed thousands of pages of convicted hacker Glenn Mulcaire’s notes in plastic bags, leaving them unexamined (or at least uncataloged) for years; did so while insisting publicly, and before Parliament, that the scandal was limited to two people and, crucially, that a full investigation had been performed; hired Neil Wallis, who was News of the World’s deputy editor while the crimes were committed, to advise the police on how to handle their own PR problems stemming from the hacking scandal; Wallis ferried information back to News Corp.; the police notified just a handful of people that their phones might have been hacked despite having evidence that in fact thousands had been; concealed their payments to Wallis for a year. Meanwhile, top police officials dined repeatedly with News International executives during the investigation.” Hence the resignations.

The British government has come under pressure too. This is why: “Conservative Prime Minister David Cameron hired the News of the World editor Andy Coulson, who oversaw a newsroom in which criminal activity was commonplace, to be a top aide, despite warnings that Coulson was personally implicated in the scandal; Labour leader Ed Miliband hired a Murdoch journalist to be top flack, and he promptly told the party to tiptoe around the scandal; regulators came very close to approving a massive TV deal for News Corp. that would have furthered its stranglehold on Britain’s private media, all while the scandal was continuing to worsen.”

The Murdoch-owned Wall Street Journal has published an editorial defending its parent company, which the American Journalism Review has labelled “misguided”.

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