Sunday, 10 July 2011

Better to be a fool than a knave in a World deprived of its News

So, it seems I won’t be reading the News of the World next Sunday.

In itself that won’t represent a huge change: not reading the News of the World has been a settled part of my Sunday morning routine for a great many years. The only real difference is that I wouldn’t be able to buy a copy even if I wanted to, since Rupert Murdoch’s News International corporation has decided to bring an end to that particular scandal sheet’s 168-year history.

The last front page
For those who may not have been following the recent enthralling developments in the NoW saga, this is the culmination of a decade-long controversy of which, for once, the paper was not the purveyor but the subject.

In their commitment to investigative journalism, some people on the paper (I’m picking my words with care: nothing has been proved against those who edited the paper at the time and they deny knowledge of any wrongdoing) had employed the services of a private investigator, Glenn Mulcaire, now in prison, to hack into the voicemail of celebrities’ mobiles. The more was dug up, the longer the list of hacking victims became, until it recently reached 4000, extending far beyond actual celebrities to include the parents of child murder victims, the relatives of soldiers killed in Afghanistan, even and most notoriously a murdered schoolgirl, whose voicemail messages the fearless investigators deleted so more could be left for them to listen to. The deletion of the messages gave the parents the hope that their daughter was still alive some time after she had in fact already been murdered.

What of the know-nothing editors? One was Andy Coulson who later headed Conservative Party leader David Cameron’s communications unit. After his boss took office as Prime Minister, Coulson became Director of Communications at 10 Downing Street on a publicly-funded salary. Eventually, in the face of the growing scandal, he resigned in January of this year. However, he continues to maintain that he knew nothing of hacking during his editorship and, since he’s a PR man, why should we question his credibility?

Come to think of it, Cameron too cut his teeth in PR, and I’ve always found him just as trustworthy as Coulson.

The other editor was Rebekah Brooks. She’s had a personal history that would make her a perfectly appropriate subject for some lurid column inches in the paper she ran. The youngest ever editor of a British national newspaper, she’s now Chief Executive of News International in this country. All this suggests that she’s outstandingly able, although she denies it: she claims to have been completely unaware of what NoW staff were doing while she was editor.

Rebekah Brooks: picture of innocence
Fortunately, there is more than one way of getting to the top of an organisation and indeed of staying there, and some only require skills that are generally available throughout the population. The belief that she rose to prominence by such means is certainly preferable to the alternative, which would be that she actively colluded in reprehensible and possibly illegal behaviour by her staff. If that were the case it would reflect unfavourably not just on her but on the News International corporation and even its top figure, Rupert Murdoch. And who of us living in Britain would want to accept that such a huge proportion of our communications media was in the control of a man without principle and with such scant respect for civilised standards?

Being thought a fool isn’t good, but probably better than being shown to have been a knave. Especially if the knavery may have strayed into criminality.

In any case, whatever else Brooks didn’t know, it's clear that she was aware of one of the most interesting operations run by staff at the NoW on her watch. The Guardian has stated, and she hasn’t denied, that she was informed by no  less an authority than Scotland Yard that the paper’s staff and resources were being used to target a senior Detective, David Cook, on behalf of two murder suspects he was investigating. Such was their commitment to investigative journalism that these people dug out personal information about Cook and his wife in their efforts to support the suspects.

I’m no lawyer so I don’t know if this was actually illegal, but I suppose I have the same grasp of basic morality as most people, and I have to say that this feels like something that is at best in a bit of a grey area. Ethically speaking.

And Brooks’ response when she was told that this was happening? That it was basic investigative journalism: they were checking out allegations that Cook had been having an affair with a presenter of the BBC Crimewatch programme, Jacqui Hames.

Now, it is certainly reprehensible for a married man to have an affair with a married woman, and that’s just the kind of thing the NoW liked to expose. However, when the man and woman are married to each other, as Hames and Cook were, surely it’s not quite as questionable? This is probably a piece of information that a fastidious observer might regard as relevant to such a line of enquiry. And without wanting to be hypercritical, I can’t help feeling that an organisation that prides itself on its investigative reporting might have been expected to discover it.

Thinking about that kind of incident makes it less difficult to believe Brooks’s protestations of incompetence.

It also makes it a lot easier to come to terms with the idea that I’m going to have to do without the News of the World next week.


Anonymous said...

A great summing-upof the situation. I have been using it to explain to some friends abroad what is happening.



David Beeson said...

Delighted it's served a useful purpose.

Keep well, San