Is there a conspiracy anywhere within the hacking scandal?
The charge by the family of the murdered teenager, Milly Dowler, that News International hacked into her phone has taken the hacking scandal to a still lower low. The idea that an investigator could have done so, and in doing so deleted messages to make space for more, revolts. Worse that the alleged interference actually led Milly’s family to believe the child was still alive.
The hacking scandal shines a light on the Press Complaints Commission the self regulating body that “regulates” the written press. Other than the expensive recourse to law, it is the only mechanism the citizen has to right wrongs. Yet the PCC’s role in the hacking scandal has been strangely low key. The PCC has within its ranks – as a self regulating body – a number of editors of other papers.
It is no secret amongst those journalists investigating the hacking allegations swirling around News International, that the practice of hacking was not restricted to that stable. Today, News International said a top level team had been appointed to investigate the claims and promised “justice will be done”.
But there has been a political dimension to this issue brought by the ill-timed debate over whether the Murdoch empire should be allowed to take full possession of BSkyB. As a matter of fact the hacking issue appears to have made no dent in the desire by the authorities to allow the take-over to happen.
Both the Tory and Labour parties have enjoyed “close” relations with Rupert Murdoch. Neither has sought to make too much fuss of the hacking issue until Ed Miliband’s overnight statement condemning the Dowler incident. Have old alliances to some extent protected News International from the full force of political outrage? In the Commons it has been left largely to backbench MPs like Gordon Brown’s former bag carrier, Tom Watson.
I believe there are three themes in play. Political compromise, police incompetence, and journalistic “team work”.
The political is as above. The police role is more intriguing. How hard have they investigated? How was it that Tom Watson knew about the Dowler phone hack BEFORE John Yates – the policeman leading the Scotland yard Investigation? Watson spoke of it in the Commons in March and asked Yates what he knew. The policeman knew nothing. Yet the eleven hundred pages of notes made by the News Internernational hired hand, Glen Mulcaire, have been in the hands of the Yard for many months – the Dowler information is contained in those notes. Has the police “incompetence” suited the politicians?
Finally, the role of the media. I know from my own sources that a number of journalists believe that other newspaper stables were hacking the phones of celebrities and others. But it has suited them to keep the focus on the stable that unites all other media operations in rivalry, News International.
This may be seen as a story that fits my “news that bores” category. Beware, this is a matter which touches many aspects of our public life – politics, policing, and media ethics – and potential conspiracies between several of them. We ignore it at our peril.