When it came to light that this practice of tricking mobile answer phones, with the password set to default, was being used by other investigators working for the paper, the editor, Andy Coulson, was forced to resign. But no further action was taken by the police into allegations that other journalists at the paper had used these techniques, to eavesdrop on prominent public figures and politicians, due to a lack of evidence.
Then, in a Channel 4 Dispatches investigation, it emerged that there was a conspiracy of silence between certain Murdoch journalists and the Metropolitan Police Service. The allegation, was that police officers would turn a blind eye towards certain shady practises among reporters, working for News International, in exchange for cash payments leading to information and the whereabouts and activities of celebrities, members of the royal family, sportsmen, entertainers and leading politicians.
In one case, the mentally ill daughter of a leading Hollywood actor, was pictured in a state of distress, after the photographer paid a police officer for a tip off as to her whereabouts, living rough on the streets of London.
Further, it was revealed that Members of Parliament, who knew that they had been targeted by these phone interceptions, were reluctant to speak out about this, because of an implied threat from News International that if they rocked the boat, certain aspects of their private lives would be splashed across the front page.
Then, with the election of the Tory led coalition government, in May of 2010, Andy Coulson reemerged as Prime Minister David Cameron’s senior press officer, at 10 Downing Street. Seen by many as Murdoch’s eyes and ears in government, when fresh allegations were made that these illegal intercepts had taken place on more than one occasion, while Andy Coulson was editor of the News of the World, and that the case of Prince William was in fact, far from an isolated incident, common practise, Coulson was once again forced to resign.
Hindering a criminal investigation
Now, it has emerged, that not only where private investigators, working for the News of the World, gaining access to the answer phone messages of everyone from Hugh Grant to Gordon Brown, but they were also using this weak-password technique to listen in on messages left on the phone of the then missing teenager Milly Dowler.
Milly was later discovered to have been murdered by Levi Bellfield, but in the opening days of the investigation, when she was merely presumed missing, her parents took comfort from the fact that some of her voicemail messages had been deleted. The police too saw this as potentially meaning that she was still alive and able to listen to her voicemail. In fact, what had happened almost beggars belief. Because the child’s mailbox had become so full with concerned messages from friends and family, desperate to locate the missing teen, Glen Mulcare, the News of the World investigator who had been listening in on them, had begun to delete the older messages to make room for new ones.
Andy Coulson’s replacement at the paper, editor Rebekah Brooks, denied any knowledge of this practise. But on the 6th of July, 2011, The Independent newspaper reported that, despite her outward anger at the way Mulcare had behaved, in 2002 she had personally asked another private detective, Steve Whittamore, who specialised in obtaining illegal information, to “convert” Milly Dowler’s mobile phone number, so as to trace the unlisted home telephone number of her parents–an illegal practise under the data protection act.
This spurred a firestorm of complaints against companies who had taken out advertising in the News of the World, via social networking sites like Facebook and twitter. To date, Ford Moters, the Halifax Bank, owned by Lloyds, The Cooperative and a handful of other major UK brands have agreed to suspend advertising in the paper until the police investigation in the hacking scandal has been concluded. But the call for a more sustained boycott from other leading brands continues to gather pace.
On the 19th of July, 2011, Jeramy Hunt, the minister for culture, media and sport, is expected to publish his decision on whether or not a proposed deal between BSkyB, the UK’s largest digital television provider and News International, the Murdoch publishing giant, should be allowed to go ahead. At the moment, Murdoch owns a 41% share of the broadcaster. Rupert wants to be allowed to purchase the remainder of the company and own BSkyB outright. Hunt was appointed to the post, by David Cameron, after his predecessor, Vince Cable, was secretly recorded by The Telegraph newspaper, telling an undercover reporter that he was “at war with Murdoch”. Hunt, on the other hand, is a firm supporter of the media mogul.
As part of the proposed deal, Murdoch has agreed to spin-off the satellite broadcaster’s flagship news channel, Sky News, as a separate entity. But the channel will still be supplied by News International and to all intents and purposes will remain part of the News Corp. portfolio.
Rebekah Brooks, having moved on from editing of the News of the World, now heads News International. She is also a close personal friend of the Prime Minister, David Cameron.
A rich history of deceit and filth
The Murdoch press in the UK have a long and disgusting history of gutter journalism. Most infamously, following the Hillsborough stadium disaster, The Sun tabloid ran a story, falsely claiming that Liverpool fans had stolen from the pockets of the dead and dying, after the crowd of football supporters were crushed against barriers in the overcrowded stands. The people of Liverpool boycotted the paper for many years.
Rupert’s desire to buy full controlling share of BSkyB is set against the backdrop of statements made by his son, already in charge of Sky Television, for the need to dismantle the BBC and radically overhaul regulations governing the rest of UK print and broadcast journalism. What everyone in the industry knows, but are often too dismayed to contemplate, is this will effectively lead to a deregulation of UK satellite and cable television–opening the floodgates for cheaper to produce, foreign content while squeezing out existing content creators, like ITV and Channel 4, who are already suffering from decreased advertising revenue and falling market share.
The drip, drip of a dumbed-down media
News Corporation’s influence over British media stretches back to the early 1980s. In return for his support, Margret Thatcher’s government agreed to use the police to crush print union protests at Murdoch’s Wapping plant. Henceforth, Murdoch’s support for one party or another has been widely seen as an indicator as to who will win the general election.
Rupert’s slow but steady attack on measured, contemplative journalism has formed a sinkhole, which many other newspapers and broadcasters, in a bid to compete, have fallen into. This “if you can’t beat ’em, join ’em” mentality has already infected many aspects of UK television, radio and print journalism. The Americanisation of what were once British institutions to be proud of, such as ITV and the BBC, owes much to the Murdoch model. If he is allowed to buy BSkyB this can only continue to get worse.
Journalism doesn’t have to be this way. Investigative reporters up and down the country, from small regional newspapers to the national broadsheets, are facing redundancies and ever tightening deadlines; to seek out quick and salacious stories, to the detriment of quality reportage–and all under the permanent threat of losing their jobs if they don’t deliver more of what Mister Murdoch calls ‘choice’, but which in reality is lacking any real diversity or depth.
Those of us who care about what is generally referred to as ‘media plurality’, need to seize upon every opportunity we can, to support those newspapers and broadcasters who could potentially vanish altogether if News Corp. expands into any more of their territory than it already has.
If anything good is to come from Mulcare’s disgraceful actions, it should be that the British public have been given an eleventh hour cudgel, with which to make as much fuss as we can, while this is still headline news among the news agencies Murdoch is yet to buy, or crush. We need to keep this in the headlines and make it as uncomfortable for the companies who pay for advertising in his publications as we can, over a sustained period.
One way to show our distain, is to ask the leading UK brands to boycott News International papers altogether. If WH Smith and Virgin Media and Halifax and T-Mobile and a range of other companies who advertise in that grotty little rag, the News of the World, feel the pressure from the people who buy their products, and listen to us when we say enough is enough, the backlash against the company with aspirations to dominate British media even more than it already does, who stoops so low as to use material gathered by hacking into the phone of a murdered child, could force Murdoch to back out of the BSkyB deal, before he has to suffer the humiliation of simply being refused.
Time is of the essence
If the boycott rolls over into successive weeks, and enough advertisers begin to pull their support for the News of the World entirely, it could effectively serve as the first and only vote the most dominant figure in British politics, who has remained in power despite never having being elected, has ever faced.
The parallels to the Glenn Beck programme, in America, are clear. This nasty little opinion tirade of misinformation and wilful delusion, hosted on another of Murdoch’s media outlets, Fox News, was forced to axe the Beck show, after viewers were outraged by Beck’s proclamation, on air, that Barack Obama “has a problem with white culture” and “is a racist”. Advertisers abandoned the Glenn Beck slot in their droves, after their customers mounted one of the most successful boycott campaigns in living memory. Beck was fired from the channel, in 2011, after the UK version of the channel ran his slot entirely without adverts for several months, with the US version losing huge contracts with companies who could no longer ignore their own customer’s views and who refused to associate their brands with Beck’s bizarre, rambling, rightwing conspiracy theories.
There is, for the first time in many years, a real opportunity for the British to save our media from the Murdoch monopoly, using this same method; asking the advertisers to boycott the News of the World. If we do it together, we can secure the future of the free and honest press we deserve.
Say “No more Mister Murdoch”, by signing the petitions linked below. Help trend the hashtag #BoycottNOTW on twitter. Blog, Facebook and generally annoy your friends with this, until everyone you know is familiar with every last detail of this disgraceful behaviour. Gather as much support as you can. Bore your family senseless with the details, until they know what is happening and feel the need to act themselves.
If you’re in a public place and there is a TV showing Sky News, turn it off. If you see someone buying a Murdoch newspaper, in WH Smiths or the local newsagent, politely remind them of the sort of people they are endorsing. Don’t be afraid to be “that weirdo” who says something out loud, even if it makes you feel awkward. It is better to suffer a few seconds of strange looks and furrowed brows, than it is to wake up in a world dominated by News Corp.