The biggest news story in the UK at the moment is the ongoing saga of Phone hacking
. Most of my links are to the Guardian
's website, but they're the paper that's been investigating the story (in much the same way as last year's Parliamentary expenses scandal was broken by the Telegraph
Basically, four or five years ago, the royal correspondent at the News of the World
, a Sunday newspaper owned by Rupert Murdoch's News International business, was jailed for using a private detective to illegally access the cellphone voice messages of members of the British Royal family and their staff.
The editor of the paper at the time, Andy Coulson
, claimed no knowledge, but resigned anyway oon the grounds that the buck stopped with him, etc. The next time he appeared in the media was shortly afterwards, when he was appointed to the role of Director of Communications for the then-Opposition Conservative Party. He stayed in that role until quite recently, of which more in a moment.
Since the 2007 trial, a small host of celebrities, politicians, some more people with royal connections, and generally large numbers of people in the public eye
have been named as having been similarly "hacked" in a search for stories (or otherwise usable material). Some, including the actress Sienna Miller, lauched civil actions for damages against the News of the World
, and these civil actions have been the engine for the continued life of the overall story.
For instance, it turns out that the London police, the Metropolitan Police Service (MPS), knew of anything up to 1,000s of names of people who'd been targeted under their original investigation, but chose not to pursue them. A very senior officer (a deputy commissioner) was a close personal friend of Andy Coulson. Other journalists have been implicated, and in the last few months senior editors at the News of the World
have been suspended (and now sacked).
Coulson himself resigned a few days ago from his government communication role (the Tories did well enough at the election to lead our currnt coalition government) because the phone hacking scandal meant he couldn't focus on his day job.
Coincidentally, or not, Rupert Murdoch's News International business has been trying to convince the powers that be that it should be allowed to take over Britain's richest TV provider, which isn't the BBC but the satellite broadcaster BSkyB. They already had de facto
control with a 39% stake, but now they want to buy out the rest and get the other 61% of the revenues and profits (and we're talking upwards of $8bn here, so no small prize). Murdoch Snr himself has now based himself in London, rather than attending the Doha summit as he'd planned, with the intention of cleaning house in his UK operations. Just yesterday, more information was released to police and media on the details of the scandal, and now other newspapers are being accused of having used illegal phone hacking to gain information.
And, ever since the 1992 election, when It Was The Sun Wot Won it
, most mainstream UK politicians on all sides have been more than keen to court the attentions of the Murdoch media empire, whether the influence public opinion or (more likely) are simply astute judges of it. Tony Blair was a regular meeting-holder with Murdoch Snr, as has been David Cameron.
So, you've got a situation where the leading privately-owned media organisation is accused of doing illegal things, with the largest police force knowing about it but turning a blind eye, while the suspect media orgnanisation works so closely to the leading political party that there is some sense of a revolving door between the two.
Questions for debateWhat is the appropriate relationship between politics, law enforcement and the mediaIf a powerful media organisation broke the law in America, under what circumstances would it be acceptable for police to turn a blind eye after the first prosecution, despite having sufficient evidence to investigate further wrongdoing?Who should run America? Who does? The media, the police, politicians, or the people? Describe why you think that
How and why are the answers on any of your questions different in Britain?