What the News International scandal really means

In 2003/4 the police raided the offices of two private detectives, John Boyall and Steve Whittamore, who had been selling illegally gained information to journalists. Much of this information came from the police national computer from whence it was removed by Paul Marshall, a communications officer at Tooting police station, from whom it was then transferred to the detectives by an intermediary, retired policeman Alan King. All four were charged with their offences and received only conditional discharges!!! Makes you wonder how that happened.

The scale of the operation was pretty big. They had 305 journalists from major media groups as customers who made 13,343 enquiries. The journalists wrote for 21 newspapers and 11 magazines. Yet, knowing this, the Labour government did nothing to clean up the press.

In May 2006 the Information Commissioner, Richard Thomas, presented a detailed report to the House of Commons entitled “What Price Privacy?” which detailed the nefarious workings of the British press. In December 2006 there was a follow up report “What Price Privacy Now?” which listed, by publication, the number of private detective transactions that had been uncovered in Operation Motorman:

Daily Mail 952
Sunday People 802
Daily Mirror 681
Mail on Sunday 266
News of the World 182
Sunday Mirror 143
Best magazine 134
Evening Standard 130
The Observer 103
The Sun 24

None of these were prosecuted even though there were clear breaches of the law and once again the Labour government did nothing to clean up the press, despite having it in black and white in these reports. However the media took notice and cleaned themselves up. In 2007 Colin Myler was appointed editor of the News of the World (replacing Andy Coulson) and he cleared the place out. It is reported that after he had finished only 2 of the original journalists remained.

Given the above it is amazing that the News of the World was closed down in 2011 by a witch hunt, especially over a telephone hack that took place in 2002. On this basis just about every newspaper should be shut down. And the hypocrisy coming from many journalists and politicians over the last couple of weeks has been amazing.

So now David Cameron and Rupert Murdoch have both acted very decisively and our focus will move on to other things, however what has come out of the wreckage?

  • There has been a big shift of power away from the media to parliament. This is possibly the biggest shift back since the Universal Register became The Times in 1788. This may not be a good thing.
  • The relationship between politicians and civil servants with the media are going to be very strictly controlled and monitored. Probably more than in any other Western democracy. This may not be a good thing.
  • We now, with the loss of the News of the World, have less media plurality in Britain, our democracy is damaged by this. This is definitely not a good thing.
  • There has been a massive shift in media (and especially news) power to the leftist, liberal, statist BBC. British Sky Broadcasting (BSB) is still being prevented from being a viable broadcast competitor.
  • The whole media landscape in Britain has swung significantly to the left. One can’t help but wonder if this was the aim of the whole exercise. It could be important when the next election comes round.
  • Rupert Murdoch will now have trouble in the USA. If he wins the day he will return here to sell off his newspapers and to try again to buy BSB. There is no reason why he shouldn’t own it, he is just as fit to own a broadcaster as the BBC are.
  • A relatively small number of left wing online activists have wielded disproportionate power over events. It looks like most of the elected politicians haven’t the faintest idea what is going on here. This is now a far bigger threat to our democracy than the formal news media. MPs urgently need training in how the new media work. I wonder how many of them are on Google+, or even know what it is.
  • The police have been proven, once again, to be rotten and corrupt and unfit for the trust that some members of the public still place in them. Reform is urgently needed but they look to be too closely embedded into the establishment for this to be likely.

This actually represents a change to our unwritten constitution. And over the whole theatre of events it would be interesting to know who was really driving the agenda. There will be books written about this.


  1. From today’s Telegraph:

    “…four years earlier, the Browns had invited several tabloid editors to the funeral of their daughter, who tragically died at 10 days old.

    What on earth can they have been thinking? One of the invited journalists told me how incredulous he was that Gordon Brown felt it was appropriate to ask high-profile movers and shakers to such an agonisingly personal event…

    For Brown to complain about the invasion of “private grief” was like Faust moaning that someone had forged his signature on the pact with the Devil. Brown told the BBC, “There was nothing you could do, you’re in public life.”

    Brown’s attack in the Commons yesterday on News International’s “lawbreaking on an industrial scale” would have been magnificent had he made it when it might have personally cost him something.”


  2. I think you kind of miss the real point. The thing that has failed is the idea that free self regulating markets will produce media that serves the public interest. In the case of Murdoch the entire justification of opening up UK media market has become shallow.

    To paraphrase our PM there is more than one way we can’t go on. In the case of media the only threat to media independence and quality is no government. In fact Murdoch produce a media which was not only of low quality and ethics, but one that was being fully run by his own political ambition.

    As long as this remains mostly a Murdoch event it is hard to see how new regulation will come in. Murdoch’s media has been shamed but the Guardian has proven itself a great servant of the public interest.

    But one thing is clear, a media run by the personal whim of a man in New York is not a free media. And Murdoch’s experiment is now an utter failure.


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