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With thanks to Robert Peston, another phone-hacking blog

Posted on 24 January 2011 | 2:01pm

I have had one of those days so far … an in-tray that started quite light suddenly became a lot heavier and instead of having around a dozen things on my immediate ‘to do’ list I had a lot more, and it means one of the things on the to-do list – ‘another blog re phone-hacking‘ – got dropped.

But then in popped a comment on yesterday’s blog that pointed me to Robert Peston’s blog today and I thought … that’ll do. So with apologies and thanks to Robert (I’m sure he won’t mind me lifting it) and apologies to you if you expected anything more original, here it is. It is interesting, informative, and confirms what has been pretty clear all along – The News of the World is not the only paper to fear that squeaky bum time is looming, and the resignation of Andy Coulson is actually where this scandal, far from dying down, really takes off. What Robert seems to be suggesting is a dog eat dog strategy in which News Corp share out the pain, having been the only ones to get caught. So far.

And won’t it be interesting to see if the police have been sitting on evidence about the activities of other papers, and doing sweet FA about it?

‘You might call it the BP strategy.

It goes like this: company suffers a disaster; company offers comprehensive financial settlement to victims of the disaster; company admits to its own shortcomings, but implies that an entire industry has also engaged in similar flawed practices.

That broadly describes the response of BP to the appalling oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico. It also describes the new strategy adopted by News International – the UK arm of Rupert Murdoch’s News Corporation – to cap the reputational and financial damage from the phone-hacking debacle.

Executives at News are engaged – they tell me – in finding out everything they can about who was hacked by the News of the World, News International’s Sunday tabloid, and who at News International knew about the hacking.

Once they have the details, they will offer settlements to those celebs, politicians and others whose privacy may have been invaded – to cut out the requirement for huge lawyers’ fees.

Any culpable News International executives will be sacked.

They tell me all of this could happen in a matter of weeks.

And, not too subtly, the message will be sent out that if News International’s Augean Stables have been cleaned, what about the stench from other media groups? Because, as I’ve mentioned before on this blog, there was a period at the start of this century when questionable techniques to obtain stories were employed by a number of newspapers.

In this context, it matters that Mark Lewis – the solicitor who obtained a whopping settlement from the News of the World over the hacking of the phone of Gordon Taylor, the chief executive of the Professional Footballers’ Association – is preparing cases for clients alleging unlawful breach of privacy against media groups other than News International.

I spoke to Lewis yesterday, and the allegations of his clients are pretty hair-raising. Which implies that those other media groups (and they know who they are) should probably be conducting thorough internal reviews, to ascertain just how liable they may turn out to be.

Not to over-dramatise, this has all the potential for the newspaper industry to turn into its version of the MPs’ expenses scandal.

But back to News International. What are the implications for that vast media business?

Now there are two separate questions of culpability here.

First there is the basic question of who knew about the hacking and who authorised it.

That’s primarily what its own internal investigation, which began with the suspension of Ian Edmondson, head of news at the News of the World since 2005, is aimed at discovering.

Now without pre-judging the outcome, when Mr Edmondson was suspended a few weeks ago, News International executives told me that they expected Andy Coulson to resign as the prime minister’s communications director – which he duly did on Friday.

Their prediction that he would go wasn’t because they had found e-mails or evidence that he was directly implicated in the hacking – or, at least, so they said. It will take some time for them to conclude their trawl through Mr Edmondson’s e-mails and computer files.

But they didn’t see how Mr Coulson – as the News of the World’s editor at the relevant time – could stay on in government, once News International had made its very public demonstration (through the suspension of Mr Edmondson) that it was re-examining its earlier statements that it had already found out everything that needed to be found out and had taken all the necessary corrective action.

For what it’s worth, colleagues of Rupert Murdoch tell me he knew nothing about the hacking. He’s in London this week and – say executives – is hopping mad about the whole thing. He is so angry, he may even cancel News Corporation’s annual jaunt to the World Economic Forum in Davos.

His son, James – who runs all of News Corp’s European and Asian operations – is also in the clear, because he was chief executive of British Sky Broadcasting when the hacking was taking place.

But there is a separate question that shareholders in News Corporation will want James Murdoch to answer – which is why he didn’t order this comprehensive internal review much earlier.

In particular, what’s hanging over James Murdoch is the statement made to MPs in July 2009 by two News International executives – Tom Crone, its head of legal, and Colin Myler, then editor of the News of the World – that James Murdoch authorised payments to Gordon Taylor of several hundred thousand pounds to settle a case of invasion of privacy.

Rather than paying Mr Taylor to keep his mouth shut about the whole affair (the settlement included a confidentiality clause), some would argue that James Murdoch would have done better to find out quite how systemic hacking had become in his organisation, and taken whatever remedial action was necessary.’

  • Mark Wright

    Sky News are giving an almost indecent amount of coverage to this story. The kind of blanket coverage and ‘nudge nudge’ ineuendo the likes of Kay Burley, Adam ‘calm down’ Boulton and Joey Jones usually reserve for coverage of the Labour Party is now being focused squarely on the phone-hacking scandal. Blair was knocked to 3rd place in the headlines. 3rd!!!!

    Surely they couldn’t be desperate to prove their impartiality?

    Nah.

  • Chris

    You might like read this……seems Miliband is going to get his share now and by the sound of it, a lot more. Couldn’t happen to more deserving guy….
    http://order-order.com/

  • Olli Issakainen

    It is clear that other papers have also been involved. But in the NoW the phone-hacking seems to have been a default position.
    And it also clear that these practices are still going on. Add to this intrusions to bank accounts and medical records, and serious questions about journalistic ethics must be asked.
    According to Peter Preston, 58 reporters in the newsroom of the Daily Mail hired a blagging eye. According to Jackie Ashley smart editors leave the dirty tricks to outsiders, but then buy and publish the results.
    Media, MPs and the police should usually intervene in wrongdoing, but this is not the case now. The Met´s “investigation” was a joke.
    It is interesting that Andy Coulson resigned at the same time when News International changed its PR strategy. A coincidence?
    David Cameron is in the minority of one in believing that Mr Coulson did not know about phone-hacking. Andrew Neil recently said that the first question he asked a journalist was how do you know this. It is difficult to believe that Andy Coulson never asked these questions.
    Jeremy Hunt thinks that News Corp´s takeover of BSkyB would not change anything. This is not, of course, true. The deal would reduce the range and choice of media in UK.
    With full control News Corp could use cash from Sky to help its newspapers. It could have more power in advertising and marketing. And most importantly, it could cross-promote its products and bundle all of it for a flat fee for customers.
    We need a full investigation into the phone-hacking scandal. We need to know who runs Britain. The government or a media empire?

    Ps. We also need to know whether the previous editors at the NoW knew about the phone-hacking.

  • Chris lancashire

    Yawn.
    World has moved on.

  • Frank Wintle

    Alastair – just to remind your readers that if they don’t change the PIN on their mobile from the factory default of 0000, then anyone phoning, say, in the early hours (when the owner is asleep and the phone unanswered) and keying in those digits will get access to their voicemail. That’s all it takes (and took) to “hack” a lot of phones.

  • Robert

    ….and the profits from the balance of Sky will pay off all those feeling hurt and a pile of legal fees and much much more as soon as they come on stream.

    If NI really wants to get the balance of Sky perhaps they should voluntarily defer the bid a few years saying the loss of profit share is a voluntary self imposed fine by way of an apology.

    Then, perhaps, with the rest of the press thoroughly muddied they might have the chutzpah to suggest one of their own go back into Number 10 as Coulson’s replacement – as they’ve shown true, sincere and demonstrable repentance ………

    Or perhaps not.

  • Dave Simons

    Are you the world? Sorry to break in on your afternoon nap but if you have a look at the previous blog it may remind you that a lot of the media would apparently like us all to move on sharply. Why?

  • Jacquie R

    Murdoch’s scorched earth, house of cards defence has begun. Revelations are starting to appear about non News International titles using phone-hacking. This needs to be dealt with (by our hoped for Royal Commission) but the blame really does lie with the Murdoch empire. As much as I’d love you all to think I’m 25, the sad fact is I remember when Murdoch came to Britain and turned our small gutter press into a very large gutter press.

    Developments are happening very quickly. Tom Watson has found three grounds for the BSkyB bid to be re-referred to Ofcom. Confirmation of James Murdoch’s sign-off of Gordon Taylor’s settlement is reverberating around Twitter, as is Cameron’s dinner date with him chez Rebekah Brooks. Meanwhile, other stories are beginning to come out from under the woodwork.

    We have an opportunity now to press for a fundamental review of how our media operates. The analogy with MPs’ expenses is correct. But, very importantly now, we must not allow ourselves to be diverted by lame excuses.

  • Alastair

    Can I ask what is your opinion about the role of the PR people at the Met in all of this? According to the mammoth New York Times story from before Xmas the Met’s PR people allegedly reminded investigating officers of the downside of widening their investigation beyond the Royal Family and the damage it could cause their relationship with the NOTW.

    As a PR man I personally think this is a real cause for concern. For what it’s worth I blogged it at my own site here

    http://tomleatherbarrow.com/2011/01/24/do-we-need-to-police-the-pr-people/

    I’d be interested to know your views.

    Best regards

    Tom

  • R Esquierdo

    The NOW ran an article about a scottish politician . The article alledged the politician had visited a swingers club. The information was obtained by phone hacking and bugging the politicians car. The politician sued the News of the world for £200,000 and won. The met had informed the politician that his car was bugged and his phone was being hacked. the politician was later charged and convicted of perjury. At the trial of Tommy Sheridan Andrew Coulson gave evidence that has now been proven to be false.Within days Coulson resigned as advisor to David Cameron.
    Tommy Sheridan is currently serving a three year jail sentence for perjury.
    The News of the world and its employees were the perpetrators in the Sheridan case .They were the cause yet get off scot free while sheridan the victim is in jail. The british judicial system should hang its head in shame or does the true depth of the phone hacking scandal have much wider implications

  • Phone hack? Catataxis!I remember when at university having a heated debate about the ethics of photojournalism. This was the issue. Imagine you are a photographer covering the Vietnam war. You see the slumped body of a dead GI on the road beside a paddy field. The sun is setting. You can’t resist the temptation to rach out and pull up the collar of his shirt to make a tableau of exquisite dishevelment ….and SNAP ….in the dying rays of the sun you capture that perfect picture. One beautifully composed frame that says everything you could ever want to say about the horror and futility of war.Now comes the ethical question. Is it morally right to pull up that shirt collar? Some say yes. If that helps to get the point across then it is perfectly justified. The art of photography is act of visual selection. You force people to isolate and focus on what you decided they should focus on. You are using all the tricks of aperture, exposure and depth of field to make them see what you want them to see. Where is the harm in a little set dressing. Is that not just the natural extension of your other camera techniques. Every photo is just  subjective moment of reality captured on celluloid, after all.But some say no. The point of photojournalism is objectivity. You are there to report the facts not to tamper with them. So pulling up the collar on the dead GI breaks the solemn compact between the journalist and the readership. Your role is to silently observe and document the facts, not to mould reality until it fits the contours  of your personal perspective. You must be veracity’s evangelist; the unobtrusive monitor of truth. Technology changes things. William Russell (1820-1907), the world’s first war correspondent with The Times covered the Crimean war. His dispatches from the front had a huge impact on the public who were shocked and outraged by what they read about the appalling treatment of the troops. A huge public backlash demanded that something should be done. But, of course, there were no photographs. It was artists who visually immortalised the Charge of the Light Brigade. Painted several years after the fact, their heroic pictures bore little resemblance to the reality of what had actually happened.  It was not until the invention of light portable cameras that  photojournalists could capture the brutal glamour of World War 2 as it really was. Later, TV cameras captured the horror of the Vietnam War and delivered it charred and bloody like a rare T bone steak to the voracious homes of the American public. That public was, yet again, shocked and horrified and demanded that something should be done. The ethics of the new technology were clear: monitor unobtrusively, record the facts, edit them sensitively and show the public the tip of the iceberg.  Now we have newer technology. The internet, social media, mobile phones and twitter. What should a journalist do when observing this vast digital shunting yard of packet switched data? Maybe the same as before: monitor unobtrusively, record the facts, edit them sensitively and show the public the tip of the iceberg.  If so, then phone hacking is morally acceptable. Silent monitoring in the background to establish the truth; is that not what we want our journalists to do? Ever since Watergate did we not anoint them as the watchdogs of liberty. Politicians have their secret services to ‘protect’ us. But we want our journalists to keep a check on the politicos. Quis custodiet ipsos custodes? Who guards the guardians? Why, the journalists do. If Secret Services can monitor phone calls,  then why not the journalists too. Ah yes, you might say, but what about the principal of privacy? Is that not an essential human right?  To put the question in another way: is information in the ether in the public or private domain? Can cyberspace ever be personal? My answer is this: to believe so is to make a catataxic blunder.  Cyberspace occupies a realm beyond the personal. Information wants to be free, and Wikileaks wants to liberate it. Every mobile phone call, text or tweet you make is a geo-located pinprick of emotional luminance. Step back and marvel at that galaxy of starlight. Should not the journalists chart those heavens like the early astronomers at their telescopes. We are stardust, and our mobile phones calls even more so. To end, we return to where we first started. The quintessential Vietnam movie is Apocalypse Now: a fusion of Joseph Conrad, helicopters and paddy fields. In my view, the information age obliterates the personal, but this is not a bad thing. In the mighty torrential Congo of digital effluvient, we are not battling upstream to a ‘Heart of Darkness’ but downstream to the open ocean and, beyond that , to a glorious far horizon of freedom beyond bounds…    

  • Phone hack? Catataxis!I remember when at university having a heated debate about the ethics of photojournalism. This was the issue. Imagine you are a photographer covering the Vietnam war. You see the slumped body of a dead GI on the road beside a paddy field. The sun is setting. You can’t resist the temptation to rach out and pull up the collar of his shirt to make a tableau of exquisite dishevelment ….and SNAP ….in the dying rays of the sun you capture that perfect picture. One beautifully composed frame that says everything you could ever want to say about the horror and futility of war.Now comes the ethical question. Is it morally right to pull up that shirt collar? Some say yes. If that helps to get the point across then it is perfectly justified. The art of photography is act of visual selection. You force people to isolate and focus on what you decided they should focus on. You are using all the tricks of aperture, exposure and depth of field to make them see what you want them to see. Where is the harm in a little set dressing. Is that not just the natural extension of your other camera techniques. Every photo is just  subjective moment of reality captured on celluloid, after all.But some say no. The point of photojournalism is objectivity. You are there to report the facts not to tamper with them. So pulling up the collar on the dead GI breaks the solemn compact between the journalist and the readership. Your role is to silently observe and document the facts, not to mould reality until it fits the contours  of your personal perspective. You must be veracity’s evangelist; the unobtrusive monitor of truth. Technology changes things. William Russell (1820-1907), the world’s first war correspondent with The Times covered the Crimean war. His dispatches from the front had a huge impact on the public who were shocked and outraged by what they read about the appalling treatment of the troops. A huge public backlash demanded that something should be done. But, of course, there were no photographs. It was artists who visually immortalised the Charge of the Light Brigade. Painted several years after the fact, their heroic pictures bore little resemblance to the reality of what had actually happened.  It was not until the invention of light portable cameras that  photojournalists could capture the brutal glamour of World War 2 as it really was. Later, TV cameras captured the horror of the Vietnam War and delivered it charred and bloody like a rare T bone steak to the voracious homes of the American public. That public was, yet again, shocked and horrified and demanded that something should be done. The ethics of the new technology were clear: monitor unobtrusively, record the facts, edit them sensitively and show the public the tip of the iceberg.  Now we have newer technology. The internet, social media, mobile phones and twitter. What should a journalist do when observing this vast digital shunting yard of packet switched data? Maybe the same as before: monitor unobtrusively, record the facts, edit them sensitively and show the public the tip of the iceberg.  If so, then phone hacking is morally acceptable. Silent monitoring in the background to establish the truth; is that not what we want our journalists to do? Ever since Watergate did we not anoint them as the watchdogs of liberty. Politicians have their secret services to ‘protect’ us. But we want our journalists to keep a check on the politicos. Quis custodiet ipsos custodes? Who guards the guardians? Why, the journalists do. If Secret Services can monitor phone calls,  then why not the journalists too. Ah yes, you might say, but what about the principal of privacy? Is that not an essential human right?  To put the question in another way: is information in the ether in the public or private domain? Can cyberspace ever be personal? My answer is this: to believe so is to make a catataxic blunder.  Cyberspace occupies a realm beyond the personal. Information wants to be free, and Wikileaks wants to liberate it. Every mobile phone call, text or tweet you make is a geo-located pinprick of emotional luminance. Step back and marvel at that galaxy of starlight. Should not the journalists chart those heavens like the early astronomers at their telescopes. We are stardust, and our mobile phones calls even more so. To end, we return to where we first started. The quintessential Vietnam movie is Apocalypse Now: a fusion of Joseph Conrad, helicopters and paddy fields. In my view, the information age obliterates the personal, but this is not a bad thing. In the mighty torrential Congo of digital effluvient, we are not battling upstream to a ‘Heart of Darkness’ but downstream to the open ocean and, beyond that , to a glorious far horizon of freedom beyond bounds…    

  • Sharon Travis

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