Tuesday, 26 July 2011

The hacking stain spreads (but who’s minding the baby?)


Back in April I wrote that I doubted whether the rest of the UK media would succeed in their attempts to quarantine the hacking scandal inside News of the World. Today we discover that the Daily Mirror has “launched a review into editorial standards” at all of its titles in response to allegations that reporters intercepted voicemail messages.
Piers Morgan, the former Mirror editor, made some suggestive admissions in his Desert Island Discs appearance, just placed online in text and sound by The Daily Beast:
Kirsty Young asks Morgan about “People who tap people’s phones, people who take secret photographs...who do all that very nasty down-in-the-gutter stuff—how did you feel about that?”
Morgan replies: “...Not a lot of that went on…A lot of it was done by third parties, rather than the staff themselves... That’s not to defend it, because obviously you were running the results of their work.”
Interesting coincidence that two commentators who have advocated draconian responses to the scandal are both graduates of the journalists’ training scheme which the Mirror used to run through its weeklies in South West England.
I’ve already noted the comments from Tony Blair’s former spin doctor, Alastair Campbell (Tavistock Times, 1980)...
“The politicians have to hold firm on this, and do the right thing by the public. A free press, yes. But a press that is above the law, untouchable, and debasing culture and society through a relentless diet of trivia, celebrity, abuse and negativity, no.”
... reflecting that Alastair’s prescription implies some powerful tribunal with acute moral sensibilities and legal weaponry which would be able to arbitrate on the composition and the protection or proscription of such notions as “culture” and “society”, “debasement” and “trivia.”
Now along comes Chris Mullin, an M.P. from 1987 until 2010, who was a Mirror trainee in and around Torquay while I was serving my apprenticeship at The Western Morning News.
In last night’s Channel Four Dispatches about Rupert Murdoch, Chris got rather excited about the prospect of the old ogre’s empire disintegrating.
“This is the key moment,” He declared. “There’ll never be a moment like this again in our lives when you can actually take these guys on. And I favour now striking with great force, and getting them down to a size where they cannot intimidate governments. I think that must be a key objective.”
Crikey. Having been struck with great force and got down to an impotent size, would “these guys” then be susceptible to intimidation by government instead? Sounds like it.
My concern continues to be whether the baby of free speech and a healthy press is about to be chucked out with the contaminated bathwater of the hacking scandal.
Meanwhile, read this new report from the House of Commons Home Affairs Committee. It reveals why many journalists – and some senior police officers – believed for years that the law said a phone message, once listened to, could not then be “intercepted” even if it hadn’t been deleted from the voicemail, and was therefore not illegally hacked if subsequently accessed by a third party. The report also contains lots more hair-raising (and depressing) information about the whole debacle.

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