Friday, 2 March 2012

The Hacking Scandal Explained

It is so easy for people to brush away the hacking scandal, arguably the biggest story of 2011, as simply boring politics. However, this story affects us all, if not obviously, every day because the media surrounds us. The ethics reporters follow are so important; they make up our democracy and much of what the Western world is today. Truthful, honest reporting is vital around the world because without it we are severed from the real events of the world.

The scandal started back in August 2005 when two investigative journalists at the News of the World (NOTW), Clive Goodman and Glen Mulcaire, were arrested over an allegation of interfering with the mobile phone of Prince William and convicted of conspiracy to phone hacking. Andy Coulson, editor of the NOTW at the time of the hacking allegations, became chief of communications for the Conservative Party. It came to light that journalists, while Coulson was editor at the News of the World, had hacked into the mobile phones of numerous celebrities.

It emerged that News International, the company which owned the daily ‘News of the World’, had paid one million pounds in ‘hush money’ to celebrities who threatened to reveal the crimes. In February 2010, MPs investigating newspaper ethics said in a report that it was ‘inconceivable’ that editors at the News of the World knew nothing of the ‘rife’ hacking at their paper.

Although there was considerable media disapproval, David Cameron gave Coulson “a second chance” by appointing him head of the government’s media operation. A year later, Coulson resigned due toincreasing speculation about his involvement in hacking and was finally arrested on suspicion of conspiring to intercept communications. By February 2011, The Met Police stated they had identified more victims of Mulcaire and Goodman, now residing in jail, and were urgently notifying previous victims, previously told they were not under threat.

After three more journalists were arrested, NOTW admitted it had a role in phone hacking - this was the first time it acknowledged the whole company was involved. Despite many social commentators discussing its demise, the paper hung on and paid Andy Gray, the shamed football pundit, £20,000 in compensation due to his phone being hacked. This is just one of the many examples of the newspaper using money to bribe people from speaking out against

June, and following a month long trial of Levi Bellfield is found guilty of murdering Milly Dowler in 2002. Milly was found in a wood unclothed and unburied. It was discovered that a lawyer had learned from police that Dowler's voicemail messages had been hacked, possibly by a NOTW investigator, while police were searching for her. It is claimed that messages on the phones were deleted, giving the victim’s family a cruel false hope of her safety. Then, on the 10th July 2011, News International announced it would close down the News of the World after over one hundred and sixty years in circulation.

Following further intense speculation, the owner of News International, Rupert Murdoch, withdrew his offer to buy in full ‘BSkyB’, the broadcasting company, with years of intense negotiations shattered by the hacking scandal. On 13th July 2011, David Cameron appointed Lord Justice Leveson as head of ‘Leveson Inquiry’ on the phone hacking scandal, interviewing those involved such as Sienna Miller and J.K. Rowling. The case was designed to access whether media is in fact able to selfregulate, and the general ‘culture, practices and ethics of the media.’

Speculation grew even more when former News of the World ‘showbiz’ editor, Sean Hoare was found dead in his home. Hoare was thought to be an advocate of hacking as most the victims were celebrities. The death is not treated as suspicious; Hoare was a heavy smoker, drinker and frequently used class-A drugs.

News International’s shares fell by 5% on the US stock exchange as the phone hacking scandal reverberating around the world, affecting America and Australia. Two days later, BSkyB the company which broadcasts Sky TV and is part owned by Rupert Murdock, who was later attacked with a foam pie by Johnnie Marbles during a select committee alongside his son, announced a £253m payout to silence angry shareholders.

From August to February 2012 the Leveson Inquiry has been working to investigate the causes which bred the environment whereby the crime of phone hacking was deemed acceptable.

Overall, the hacking scandal can be compared to a black hole; growing the more things it consumes. It has sullied the names of world leaders, respected politicians, and international celebrities.
This scandal was the inevitable outcome of the climate of fear and bullying present in newsrooms. Reporters, desperate for promotion and acceptance from their editors, discard morality for their big break. In this story, each revelation amplifies the calls for change, and now.

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