Not the end of the hacking story

Malcolm Dean

Malcolm Dean

by Malcolm Dean, founder of Society Guardian and author of Democracy under attack.

Contrary to tabloid assertions that the hacking scandal is now over following today’s sentences on Andy Coulson, former Editor of News of the World, and four other members of that stable, some 59 people still face trials for making or receiving corrupt payments for confidential information.

Eleven more cases involving 20 current or former journalists on the Sun and News of the World are due to take place at the Old Bailey. (14 people – seven of them police officers – have already been convicted for corrupt payments.) Some 30 people, mostly journalists, including some from the Sun and Mirror papers, are still waiting to find out whether they will be charged with hacking offences. And there are still more civil compensations cases due to be heard, the settlement of 718 having cost Murdoch’s News International over £250 million. The settlements represent less than 15% of the suspected 5,500 victims.

What has been established beyond doubt is that News International journalists in the UK were indulging in illegal hacking on an ‘industrial scale’. So much for the ‘one rogue reporter’ defence that the company fought so hard to maintain. There have now been eight convictions for hacking since the original 2006 trial. We still do not know why Scotland Yard refused to pursue other NoW journalists, until The Guardian publicly exposed the depth of criminal activity. The Yard, which was well aware of such activities, has not even investigated its own shortcomings. Was it, as some believe, its wish to retain its own cosy relationship with Murdoch papers?

As the former Editor of the Times, James Harding, a News International employee, bravely noted before the trials began: ‘The News of the World was an example of a newsroom not only whose methods were wrong, but which had also lost its moral bearings. The failure of News International to get to grips with what had happened at one of its newspaper suggested that the company had succumbed to that most dangerous delusion of the powerful: namely that it could play by its own set of rules.’ Two weeks later he resigned at the request of Rupert Murdoch. Elisabeth Murdoch, Rupert’s daughter, who had been equally scathing about the behaviour of her father’s company in her 2012 MacTaggart lecture, got off more lightly. Meanwhile, a former News of the World editor, who cannot be named for legal reasons, was even more blunt: “That is what we do. We go out and destroy other people’s lives.” That sentiment was echoed by the Leveson Inquiry, which reported on the scandal in 2012.

Alas, Leveson’s astute proposals for an independent press regulator – to stop the media ‘wreaking havoc with the lives of ordinary people’ – is farther away than ever. An insidious coalition of big newspaper groups – Murdoch’s News International, Northcliffe Media who own the Mail newspapers, The Telegraph Media Group and Mirror Group Newspapers – have not just defeated Leveson, but the three main political parties in the country too that had backed the Leveson plan.

The so-called Independent Press Standards Organisation (IPSO) claims to comply with the Leveson plan, but a forensic analysis by the Media Standards Trust has documented that it only satisfies a mere 12 of the 38 criteria that Leveson set down. It repeats the fatal flaw of its pathetic predecessor, the Press Complaints Commission. The people who supply the finance – the media barons – run the system. Among the many powers of IPSO’s new controller, the Regulatory Funding Company (RFC), include:

  • a veto on any changes to its regulations;
  • a veto over changes to its standards code;
  • a veto over any low-cost arbitration, as proposed by Leveson, to allow ordinary people access to the system without having to use the extremely expensive court system;
  • control over the process of voting, giving big publishers a bigger share of the vote;
  • control over the funding of investigations into wrongdoing;
  • control over financial sanctions;
  • control over the size of the IPSO budget.

The chair of the new board, Sir Alan Moses, a respected and distinguished judge, has no power to rewrite the IPSO articles, because they are set in stone, giving overwhelming power to the Murdoch, Mail, Telegraph and Mirror groups.

All seven sins of my trade – set out in Democracy Under Attack: how the media distort policy and politics – will continue to flourish: deliberate distortions of the facts; group think; hunting in packs; dumbing down; too adversarial; too readily duped; more interest in politics than policy; and worst of all, too negative.

Remember: under the old regime, when Express journalists complained to the PCC about distorted reports they were having to write on asylum seekers, they were told they were disqualified from filing a complaint because access was restricted to victims. The new system will also have restrictions on third party referrals.

Attempts by Hacked Off, the pressure group campaigning on behalf of victims, to set out what is wrong with IPSO have been turned down by the Times, Telegraph and Mail. So much for a free press. Spread the message about the new system’s faults. Remind the public of David Cameron’s pledge to victims of hacking, that he would endorse any proposed regulator that conformed to Leveson’s criteria. IPSO doesn’t.

Democracy under attack is available with 20% discount from www.policypress.co.uk.

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