Monday, September 06, 2010

Uncovering the “dark arts”

It has taken an American newspaper, The New York Times, to ferret out the corrupt relationship between Scotland Yard and the Murdoch-owned media empire.

You could be forgiven for not considering ex-deputy Prime Minister Lord John Prescott an object of sympathy when he grumbles about the News of the World’s hacking his phone back in 2006.

Or for seeing New York Times’ sordid story (now taken up by the British media) as just opposition New Labour politicians trying to pull one over on Cameron, who appointed ex-News of the World editor Coulson as his head of communications in May.

But the truth is that Murdoch’s journalists’ snooping is only the tip of a gigantic spider’s web. The New York Times’ detailed 6,100-word investigation provides an inside view of the connivance between the police and the News International media empire which should be required reading for all state-watchers.

Just like last-year’s MPs expenses scandal, this glimpse is thanks to the determined efforts of non-British news hounds. They have revealed “industrial scale” eavesdropping which according to MP Tom Watson says, goes “to the heart of the British establishment”.

Watson is a member of the Parliamentary committee appointed to investigate the phone hacking scandal. The committee, headed by Tory MP John Whittingdale, released its findings last February.

Whittingdale said he felt misled when News International executives testified that two of its employees, royals reporter Clive Goodman and phone-hacker Glenn Mulcaire, had acted alone when they listened in to Prince Harry’s voicemails.

Goodman and Mulcaire were arrested in August 2006 and convicted to several months in prison. They soon got compensation for their spell inside, however. News International paid Mulcaire £80,000 for wrongful dismissal and Goodman received an undisclosed amount.

The NYT’s investigation shows beyond a shadow of doubt that Scotland Yard’s inquiry “focussed almost exclusively on the royals case, which culminated with the imprisonment of Mulcaire and Goodman”. Several investigators said that “Scotland Yard was reluctant to conduct a wider inquiry in part because of its close relationship with the News of the World”.

Coulson, who became NoW editor in 2005, maintained that he had been unaware of illegal activities, “Nor do I have any recollection of incidences where phone hacking too place”, he claimed at new parliamentary hearings in July 2009.

The new hearings took place after Guardian journalists discovered that News of the World paid £1m to settle a lawsuit pursued by Football Association’s executive Gordon Taylor and two of his associates whose phones had been tapped. At this point, the Commons committee criticised Scotland Yard’s investigation and accused NoW executives of “deliberate obfuscation”.

In a further (and lucrative) twist, PR executive Max Clifford took on the News of the World in March this year, he extracted another cool £1m from Murdoch’s company in exchange for feeding the paper exclusive stories for several years. Clifford dropped his lawsuit against the paper after a lunch with its then editor, Rebakah Brooks.

The New York Times reporters say that “Scotland Yard only notified a small fraction of the hundreds of people whose messages may have been illegally accessed – effectively shielding the News of the World from a barrage of civil lawsuits”.

The anti-Murdoch media is performing a good service in exposing the shenanigans of the gutter press and the web of connections that work to strengthen the status quo. But the whole degrading spectacle is much more serious than it may appear. We have been told about the snooping on the “great and the good”, the Royals and the Lord Prescotts of this world.

But, by implication, equally illicit methods are used to obtain information – the dark arts – on anyone who seeks to change the status quo. We have been warned.

Corinna Lotz
A World to Win secretary

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