The 'Phone Hacking Affair in the United Kingdom

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Phone Hacking Affair

The ‘Phone hacking controversy, in The United Kingdom, gets more serious by the day. This news story has been rumbling on for years. Prosecutions connected with the 'phone hacking affair continue apace. Since 2005, there have been constant stories that journalists, at the News of the World, a Sunday newspaper, intercepted, or caused to be intercepted, voice mails on mobile telephones belonging to celebrities, politicians, and members of the Royal family. News Corporation, the paper’s parent company, stated that one rogue journalist caused the problem. Police investigated the matter and the News of the World’s royal correspondent and a private investigator were prosecuted and jailed, in 2007, concerning matters pertaining to intercepting the Royal Family’s telephones.

In 2010, a Parliamentary select committee investigating privacy and libel issues, complained of “deliberate obfuscation and collective amnesia” by press witnesses, who gave them evidence. It is rare that any Parliamentary committee is so forthright in its condemnation. It further went on to single out the News International representatives for special condemnation saying "We strongly condemn this behaviour, which reinforces the widely held impression that the press generally regard themselves as unaccountable and that News International, in particular, has sought to conceal the truth about what really occurred”.

The story has rumbled on through the intervening years, with various allegations surfacing that many more people had suffered illegal ‘phone hacking. News Corporation made out of court settlements on various celebrities, but the allegations continued to surface. In February 2011, The Metropolitan Police Force began a new enquiry into the affair, at the time there twenty, or so, civil actions pending against the newspaper. Lawyers for victims believe that the News of the World may have hacked thousands of mobile telephones. In early April 2011, The News of the World printed an apology and admitted, finally, that the problem was more widespread, having insisted that it was an aberration by one reporter for five years.

Although it is a serious case in its own right, revelations on the sixth of July 2011 that murdered schoolgirl Milly Dowler’s voicemail messages were intercepted and some messages deleted, (during the time that Milly was missing, before her body was found) have disgusted the British Public, politicians, and even other journalists. Not only did this raise Milly’s parent’s hopes that their daughter was still alive, it impeded the police in their enquiry, and destroyed what may have been vital evidence.

The Public were angry and there were several campaigns on social networking internet sites, calling for a boycott of the News of the World newspaper. Advertisers had pulled advertising from the 10 July 2011 issue of the newspaper. Politicians were so concerned they called for an emergency parliamentary debate, on the issue, on 6 July 2011. During which it appears that other crime victims’ families, victims of the 7/7 London bombings and the bereaved families of service personnel, who died in Iraq and Afghanistan, may also have been subject to the interception of their voice mail messages. The News of The World newspaper eventually ceased publication. Only to be replaced by another paper from the same stable.


What the 'Phone Hacking Affair means and its results.

The ‘phone hacking affair has implications, which go much further than privacy invasion or even the enormous pain it has caused to its victims. There are questions as to whether the information necessary to hack into some ‘phones came from police officers, who were paid for that information. There is the question of why the original police investigation, in 2006, only resulted in two prosecutions.

There was, as news reports prove a close relationship between senior politicians and very senior police officers and the News of the World. Andy Coulson, former News of the World editor 2003 -2007, was Prime Minister David Cameron’s communications director from 2007 until January 2011, when he resigned after continued media coverage of the ‘phone hacking affair. There is a suspicion that the News of the World is probably not the only British newspaper involved in paying police officers for information. Could it be that, as the Parliamentary select committee said, the British Press believes itself above the law? Many voters remember a headline “It's The Sun Wot Won It", which appeared on Saturday 11 April 1992 on the front page of The News of the World’s sister paper, The Sun, commenting on a surprise conservative victory in the general election. Perhaps the press has forgotten that the government governs the land and the press’s proper position, within the constitution, is to hold the government to account for its actions whilst doing so, the press would do well to remember that historical kingmakers usually lost their heads.

The other question that the phone hacking affair raised was the News of the World’s owner wishing to acquire the Sky News television channel. As News international already own so much of Britain’s newspapers and media some people were uneasy about it owning any more. News broadcasting organizations’ owners must prove themselves fit and proper persons. Sky eventually withdrew itself from the deal.

Rupert Murdoch, owner of News International, was questioned before a Commons Select Committee and famously was attacked by a protester with a custard pie. The Levenson Enquiry ruled that Press regulation was insufficient and Justice Levenson made his recommendations, which politicians and Newspaper proprietors are still arguing over.

The mobile telephone hacking affair raised many questions and it is unclear where it will eventually lead. What is clear is that no one knew what would happen, once people began lifting the stones, tentacles lead out from the original area into many areas of British life. What is now clear is that the British people no longer trust their politicians, the police or public officials, and that the criminal actions of a few journalists have tarnished the image of their law abiding and hard working colleagues.

The court cases involving News of the World employees, including editors and senior employees continue. The affair has had far reaching effects as the current row over efforts to regulate the British press show clearly. There are further questions for the Press, and British society as a whole about the appetite for scandalous news among the public and whether, even if that appetite exists, it should be satisfied.


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