Phone-hacking becoming a tipping point moment in politics/media relations
Posted on 29 January 2011 | 9:01am
I was rushing around a lot yesterday making a short film on phone-hacking for The One Show on Monday, having earlier done an interview for a much longer Despatches documentary being made on the same subject.
TV can be a very frustrating medium, which is one of the reasons I don’t do that much of it. The faff factor tends to be high, and though you can pack a fair bit into a few minutes’ film, I still rate a good newspaper article ahead of a telly report in terms of how much you can pack in. But hopefully by the time we have finished it will be worth a look.
There are four main interviewees in the One Show film so far and a disparate bunch they are too.
– Tory MP John Whittingdale, chair of the DCMS select committee who believes he was misled by News International executives on phone-hacking and will want to see them again once the new police and DPP probes are complete.
– Publicist Max Clifford, who settled his case with the News of the World, but was nonetheless interesting on how widespread he believes criminal activities on newspapers to be – and how high up he believes it is likely to be known about – and on the financial arrangements between newspapers and police officers. Interesting too on how he planted false stories via mobile as a way of confirming his suspicions that he was being hacked.
– Lawyer Mark Lewis, who represtented 700k pay-out man Gordon Taylor and who said that not just targeted celebs but also anyone who left messages that were listened to was entitled to damages. He thinks the final damages bill could run into multi-millions, and that though News of the World was the first to get caught, others will be drawn in soon.The information is all coming via High Court civil cases, he says, but could end up being used at the Old Bailey.
– And former News of the World reporter Paul McMullan who says everyone was at it, all the key people in high places knew it, and that as well as hacking messages, newspapers regularly get stories by using scanners to listen in to actual conversations. If people are stupid enough to talk on their phones, people are going to listen, he said, adding that nobody was entitled to privacy.
There was a universal view that the police investigation has been something of a joke. McMullan said he was asked three times to visit the police and be interviewed under caution. Three times he declined. Then he was eliminated from their inquiries. ‘If it had been a reporter, he’d have been sacked for incompetence,’ he said.
Mr Whittingdale clearly thinks the home affairs select commitee should look at the police handling of the affair. I have put in a bid for John ‘Yates of the Yard’, he who got such a wonderful press for his bravery (sic) in following up the gossip. rumour and innuendo about cash for honours (sic), complete with visits to the PM’s office and dawn raids on prime ministerial aides in nighties, but who felt there was nothing but ‘gossip, rumour and innuendo’ to many claims made about phone-hacking … This despite the fact two men had already gone to jail … Cue ‘rogue reporter’ defence shared by cops and News International which now, as it was always going to do, has collapsed.
We have also asked for News International to appear but if their current approach is anything to go by I doubt they will. One of the things Max Clifford and I discussed – the film crew was amazed it was the first time we had met – was how useless most media organisations are at media relations. He felt it was because they were powerful and didn’t need to bother. I think it is a strange mixture of arrogance and defensiveness.
One thing’s for sure though. The Andy Coulson departure from Downing Street eight days ago – and I fear most of the things his former colleague Mr McMullan said of him won’t get past a lawyer – was but the start of an avalanche on this.
Max Clifford believes a lot of powerful people from David Cameron, Rupert Murdoch and the Met Commissioner down now just want the issue to go away, and therefore it will. Max seemed a much nicer and more intelligent guy than I had expected. But on this, I think he is wrong.
In a short film we probably won’t have time to go into the BSkyB issue, though no doubt Despatches will. But I have a feeling about that too … That just as Coulson’s exit became the tipping point that moved phone-hacking from Guardian page 5 to TV newsleader, so if culture secretary Jeremy Hunt waives through the News Corp takeover of BSkyB, it will be the tipping point that takes the government from being unpopular but tolerated to something far worse, from which they may not get back.
Politicians tend to fight the last campaign. If David Cameron has any sense he will be looking at this one through a new media lens. It used to be a given that staying close to the Murdoch Empire was a net benefit for a political leader or party. That may have changed. Cameron’s failure to win a majority whilst having virtually all of the press behind him is a good indicator that the public are now in a very different place to both politicians and media as to the nature of the relationship between the two.