Category Archives: phone-hacking

Is Hack an irregular verb?

I suspect that “Hack” is an irregular verb.
·         I investigate,
·         You hire private eyes (in the public interest of course),
·         He hacks.
Journalists are very keen to say – We abide by the code – We do not hack – We do not do this sort of thing.
I like most of the journalists that I know. They are people who find the world deeply interesting. They try to make sense of it and they try to convey what they see to other people.  All of these things are admirable.
I deeply dislike anything in the way of a witch hunt, and I do not like that at present many journalists will feel threatened by the crisis that is hitting their profession. It is of course nothing like as bad for the majority of them as it was for the MPs when their turn of being in an unwelcome spotlight came two years ago. The journalists have the advantage that they can tell things their way, and a pretty good chance of making themselves heard, a privilege that was completely unavailable to the MPs who were attacked without mercy by the press.
However I do not accept the comfortable view held by many journalists, that the state of journalism is fine, there are just a few bad apples, criminals who should bear the full penalty of the law.
If we look at what the some elements of the press produces, sensationalism, speculation, exaggeration, celebrity focused gossip, the prejudging of people accused of a crime, the details of murders, tragedies, scandals, the demonization of individuals and of different sectors of the community,  then we are forced to see that all is not well.
If we look at the many burning issues that the papers raise but do not really help us to grasp: the future of pensions, jobs for young people, the state of our care services, tax avoidance,  fuel poverty  to name a few, it is right to expect that the press could do so much more.
If we look at the way in which papers drive a wedge between people who we elect to try and solve these problems for us then we could wish for a different and more productive ways for the press to promote better communication.
It is not all well. The press needs to see this. It needs to accept that this is a moment where a change is both possible and necessary.
The press would be happier if the focus remains on the extreme horror of the Milly Dowler case. This would be a wasted opportunity.
I have spent much of the last 6 months sitting listening to hearings of the Stafford Hospital inquiry. The common perception , which has been fostered by some rather seriously flawed reporting, is that Stafford is unique, and that therefore other hospitals do not have much to learn from the matter. This is a shame. Most of what we are finding by close scrutiny of the Stafford Hospital case actually shows that the problems that did exist here were not spotted because they are not in any way as extreme as they have been portrayed. There were a series of individual problems which are on the spectrum which takes in the whole of the NHS. The NHS has a lot to learn, but because the press has not yet been able to see this clearly the NHS does not yet recognise this.
There is an analogy with the News of the world and the press. There are aspects of what was happening with the NOTW and NI which are pretty unusual, and perhaps unique, in particular the behaviours for which Vince Cable has just coined the phrase “heavy lobbying”, and the uncomfortably close relationship with the MET, but there are other aspects of questionable ways of getting a story, or failures to check accuracy which we can find throughout the press.  The behaviour is not an aberration, but something on the edge of a broad spectrum of behaviour which is common to many other papers and journalists too.
So what is to be done about it?
If we stay with the perception of isolated extreme behaviour the temptation is to go after the individual journalists that went too far, and throw the book at them, sackings, trials, prison sentences.  But if it is part of a spectrum, part of a culture in which bad practice thrives and the best practice struggles, then a different approach is needed.  The curing of this widespread insidious infection has to come from within the body of the journalistic profession. Journalists have to play an active part in the healing process.
A number of people are suggesting some form of amnesty for journalists; a window of opportunity for them to come forward and declare the things that they feel have been wrong, an opportunity to openly analyse and to assist with the process of devising good rules, good monitoring processes and imagining a better press.
The urging for this amnesty is coming from a range of different people, who may have different, and perhaps conflicting reasons for suggesting it. I suggest it because I value openness and I hate witch hunts, it is possible that other people are suggesting it to deflect attention from the Murdoch press and to spread blame more widely.  I am not sure if an amnesty is something that journalists would welcome, or if it should be done. I would like to hear other people’s views on this.  
The ground rules that have governed the press are the “editor’s code” this is what it says. It is a code that is devised by editors, and it is there to help protect editors. If their journalists infringe the code then that is cause for dismissal. If they remain within the code then this is protection from being sued by people who object to their coverage. This is all good for the interests of the editors and proprietors.
Does this code serve the public well? Does it serve the interests of principled good journalists who want to follow the highest standards of the profession?  How could or should it be improved?
All of this will come under close scrutiny as the Leverson inquiry takes shape. I want to see journalists working with the public to devise rules that are for the good of the public as a whole.
Going after the journalists who can be seen to have done wrong is something that will appeal to the “sleuth” in many journalists, and it could run and run. Personally I do not see this as a productive process. A great deal of real harm has been done to many people by the press over many years. Maybe now what we need is not so much retribution as a truth and reconciliation process.
What do other people think about an amnesty where journalists can own up to bad practice, followed by a period of generous and prominent apologies to those have been harmed over the years?  This should be coupled by the full co-operation of the journalists in the devising of a code where the primary purpose is to protect the public, to foster the public good, and to protect journalists from undue pressure.
Let me know what you think about this. Does there need to be a wider survey to canvass opinion?

Images from the press scandal.

Scandals are landmarks on our political landscape. We are used to the way that the press and the media can build a furious row on a range of matters for a day or two, and then it subsides.
This scandal – which hasn’t yet even got a convincing name – is different.
It is different because it is the press itself which is now finally and inescapably at the centre of our vision.  It is different because the scale of public outrage, and way in which the prime minister is so closely bound into the heart of the problem means that he has had to take far stronger action than anyone else could or would have dared, and he has had to set up a full Public Inquiry.
We can have no idea at this moment just what this Inquiry will find, what it will tell us about our society, but the expectation is that it is going to be a deeply uncomfortable process for many people. The hope is that it will show us clearly what it is that went so badly wrong in the relationship between the press, the politicians, and the people, and what steps need to be taken to put this right.
The name most commonly used for the scandal is “hackgate”. I am not sure that this is right. It captures the moment when the floodgates burst, when the universal horror over the most extreme action of a single private investigator hacking into Milly Dowler’s phone, in order to access sensational material to sell newspapers, brought home to the country as a whole that something toxic was happening to the press. 
The danger of this name is that it offers comfort to far too many people.  The quality press and the BBC would not dream of “hacking” though they have never been shy of parasitically reporting the stories.  The other tabloids if they were doing it at all would have drawn the line somewhere. This is about unspeakable crimes, crimes that could only be committed by “other people”.
It is good that Lord Leverson sees a wider picture. He will look beyond the criminal failures in News international and the police to the wider issues of corporate governance and a media culture that allowed this extreme amoral example of bad press practice to exist.  He is approaching this from the point of “who guards the guardians”.
What will we see when we do begin to look wider?
If we are looking for monsters my guess is that we will not find them.
In the tsunami of stories that have swept over us in the last 10 days there are images that float to the surface.

I see the image of Rupert Murdoch with his arm around Rebekah Brooks, offering her protection against the clamour from the mob.  Is this an image of a company where things that we normally see as good, family and friendship, was allowed to matter too much, at the expense of the public and of the people who work within their organisation.   
I hear the protestations of Rebekah Brooks, that she did not know, and I find this believable. I find it completely believable that there are many things that people would have chosen not to tell her, because these are things she would not have wished to hear.
I hear the accounts of journalists of the pressures they experienced within the company, the relentless pressure to deliver the right story, and I see that this pressure, something that exists well beyond the confines of the News of the World, could drive many individuals to deliver stories got by many dubious means, stories that may have a tenuous connection with the truth and stories that may be in the interests of the proprietor, but not in the broader public interest.
I see images of Rupert Murdoch, this energetic bright old man, now out from behind the curtain and exposed, and I think of the ways in which we have all, all of us allowed him to fill us with fear over the last 30 years.  If there is a monster it is a monster we have built in our imaginations.
I am sure that when he does speak, he will convince us that there are things he did not know.  He will not have been told, but people will have striven to deliver stories that they believed he will have wanted to see.
I saw the image of David Cameron, staying away from the House of Commons to announce another variation of the Big Society. Here the TV images played surreal tricks. The signal was corrupted. His smooth concerned face continually distorted and peeled away.
When I listen to David Cameron on the big society I hear many things that resonate. He is right that there is a limit to what the state can do, and that there is a need for us to take far greater control over our world. I see that he means this. What he does not and perhaps cannot see, what he is still hiding from himself is that this “big society” cannot have a firm foundation on the tangled mass of vested big money interests that is symbolised by his oh so close links with the Murdoch Family.
I hear David Cameron’s statements about the things he did not know, and again I find these completely believable. I think we have often seen with him the capacity to not look too closely, to block out inconvenient truths, to believe that all is well within his simple and sunny vision of the world,  and we are back to the problem that people will have told him only those things that he wanted to hear.
There are people who we now know have told him strongly that there were real issues with the hiring of Andy Coulson, but for the most part he will have seen them as his political enemies, and the relationship between the parties has been so toxic, in part because of the press, that he will have chosen not to believe what he was told.
We have seen Andy Coulson, again at the centre of the story, battling his way through the crowd of cameras. As always when I see this man I do not see a monster, but a servant seeking to do the bidding of those who employed him; an intermediary between the unspoken desires of his masters and the hidden means of delivering them.
I do not see, because they are not yet visible, the other interests that lie behind all of this; those people and big business interests that supported Murdoch’s view of the world, and wanted his influence over the voting public to continue. Is Murdoch the puppet master himself a useful puppet, a servant of other masters.
I see the big set piece debates and PMQs, where we are seeing a combination of a desire to move on, clear up the intolerable mess, build a better future, with the raw and painful explosion of  anger and the moment of freedom to speak out and expose some of what has been so badly wrong.
I see the committees becoming compulsive viewing. I welcome to the desire to understand what it was that happened, why problems went unchecked, and I worry about our need to put a face on what has happened and create scapegoats for all of this.  
Beyond all of this we are beginning to see the jostling for position. The desire to own and claim credit for the better future.
As the tsunami recedes and we see the wreckage left behind the task is to imagine what this future looks like.  We will get this right if we see the future in terms of the interests of the many, not of the few.
Nick Davies on phone hacking and the police – video

The Guardian’s Nick Davies, who has reported extensively on the phone-hacking scandal, gives his views on the Met’s evidence at the home affairs select committee

Fresh allegations in phone hacking case: will the Met now widen its remit?

“News Corporation has shaped global media by ensuring the public’s needs are met and that our offerings are of the highest calibre. Today, hundreds of millions of people around the world trust us for the best quality and choice in news, sports and entertainment. This public trust is our Company’s most valuable asset: one earned every day through our scrupulous adherence to the principles of integrity and fair dealing.” 

Extract from Rupert Murdoch’s letter to News Corp staff introducing the company’s ‘Standards of Business Conduct’.

Yesterday in the House of Commons, during Prime Minister’s Questions, Tom Watson used Parliamentary Privilege to reveal further allegations, adding to a growing mountain, in the increasingly widely publicised phone-hacking case.

A BBC recording of his question and David Cameron’s reply can be found here.

Clegg, Cameron, Osborne listening to Tom Watson’s question at PMQs

Press reports written following Tom Watson’s allegations yesterday are here:


On the BBC Radio 4’s World at One with Martha Kearney, the latest developments in the case can be heard in an IPlayer recording at approximately 16minutes 16 seconds  here.
An article on the Sky News website mentions the new allegations by Tom Watson and has a video clip, here. 
Most of these sources report that News Corp have denied there is any truth in what was revealed by Tom Watson yesterday in the House of Commons:

“A spokesman for News International, the News of the World’s parent company, said: “It is well documented that Jonathan Rees and Southern Investigations worked for a whole variety of newspaper groups. “With regards to Tom Watson’s specific allegations, we believe these are wholly inaccurate. The Met Police, with whom we are co-operating fully in Operation Weeting, have not asked us for any information regarding Jonathan Rees.
“Tom Watson MP made these allegations under parliamentary privilege.”- Telegraph.

The Metropolitan Police spokesman said yesterday, as reported in the Guardian:

“[We] can confirm that since January 2011 the MPS [Metropolitan police service] has received a number of allegations regarding breach of privacy which fall outside the remit of Operation Weeting. These allegations are currently being considered.”

As these new allegations and slivers of information emerge, it becomes increasingly obvious that phone-hacking and the News of the World may be the tip of an enormous iceberg, involving many more journalists, criminals, newspapers and methods of intercepting information. 

We are watching, perhaps, the denouement of a murky plot with far-reaching and dramatic consequences. 

Will we eventually witness the disappearance of not only criminal methods of news gathering but of the equally harmful character assassinations in the name of the ‘public interest’ such as this, reported today?:

Sun apology and damages to Baby P social worker

A social worker targeted by The Sun in its Justice for Baby P campaign has received an apology and substantial damages.

Full story here.

Yet another apology wrung from the News Corp stable of titles, this time by the Press Complaints Commission.

Many, many more links and lots of information regarding the phone-hacking saga and Rupert Murdoch and those close to him can be found if you click the relevant tab above this blogpost. 

Many, many more will, no doubt, be added in the future..!

Updated – 9th June 2011:

Tonight, writing in the Guardian, Tom Watson has made an impassioned plea for those Labour MPs, Shadow Ministers, who were also victims of the News of the World hackers to come forward and ‘speak out’.

He writes:

“Yet it’s not just the Conservative prime minister who could do with a spine replacement. It’s the former Labour ministers who were allegedly hacked by News International’s private investigators who have made secret, out of court settlements with the company. I want to be clear to my parliamentary colleagues (in the Lords and Commons): if you were the target of a News International private investigator you have a democratic duty to speak out. You owe it to yourselves to put an end to a toxic media culture that allows journalists to think it acceptable to hack the phones of the families of murder victims.”

If these people were to publicly denounce the practices employed by the editors, journalists, hackers, newspaper proprietors etc, they would not only be helping those mentioned by Tom Watson in his article, – they would be helping to restore to health the democracy of this country. 

They owe it to us, the ordinary people, who need honest, principled reporting and unmanipulated facts to enable us to make decisions as to who represent us in Parliament. 
I add my plea to that of Tom Watson.

News International to admit some phone-hacking liability!

News of the World to admit phone hacking liability

breaking news
The owner of the News of the World is to admit liability in a number of cases brought against the paper for alleged phone hacking.

News International says it has approached some claimants with an “unreserved apology”.
It will also establish a compensation fund, with a view to “dealing with justifiable claims efficiently”.

A News of the World reporter and an ex-news editor were arrested earlier this week over the allegations.  BBC NEWS

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 More here at Peston’s Picks Blog (BBC)

James Macintyre
But still they key question remains, about the relationship with and payments to the police from Murdoch press.

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Keir Simmons
News of the World says it has decided to approach some civil litigants in ‘phone hacking’ cases with ‘unreserved apology’.

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Apologies for Phone-hacking : News International to Give up the Fight –

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News International ‘Sorry’ For Phone Hacking

News International has offered an unreserved apology and an admission of liability over the News of the World phone hacking allegations.

The global media giant said it had also instructed lawyers to set up a compensation scheme for a number of public figures to deal with “justifiable claims”.
The company said the announcement follows an “extensive internal investigation” and disclosures through civil legal cases.
In a statement, News International said “past behaviour” at the newspaper in relation to voicemail interception was “a matter of genuine regret”.
It added: “This will begin the process of bringing these cases to a fair resolution with damages appropriate to the extent of the intrusion.”
But the company said it would continue to contest cases that it believed were without merit.
News of the World, a Sunday tabloid newspaper, is accused of intercepting the voicemail of a number of public figures during 2004 to 2006.
More follows…

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Minority Thought
Compare this News International statement from 2009 () with this (). What a difference 2 years make.
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John Prescott

The NOTW has now admitted mass criminality. The Gvt should NOT approve Murdoch’s bid for BSkyB until all investigations are complete


The Met, The Media & Bereaved Families…

I would hope that you will join me in being absolutely outraged by the actions considered to have been possibly undertaken by newspapers who appear to have essentially arranged the hacking of phones of bereaved parents of girls who were abducted and murdered.  and

Following months and years of allegations, rumours, challenges, sniggers, sneers, procrastinations and denials we are now seeing that further questions merely bring about further questions ! This whole saga is becoming murkier and murkier…  who would want to touch it ?  But at what cost do we not touch it…. ?

This saga began with a few people concerned that their phones had been hacked realising that stories printed could only have been ascertained via their mobiles. Since those days the story has grown to such an extent that we are now questioning the actions and motives of all those involved from journalists, private investigators, newspaper editors, owners of big media organisations, The Met, latterly the Director of Public Prosecutions and even the PM has been brought into it !  The British Prime Minister !! Excuse me..  but whatever political party we may or may not belong to the Office of the Prime Minister has been brought into question. Private dinners, inviting Murdoch through the back door not the front door of No 10. What does that say ?  And let’s not forget Coulson…  he was there at the beginning of this tale – will he be there when we get to the end ?  When the DPP & a Senior Officer of the Met start throwing accusations at each other, as alleged, then there are serious questions…  we need the answers !

I believe this has become very serious. In fact I would go so far as to say there is an odour… an odour of corruption about this whole affair.  I thought this a while ago but the latest headlines, where innocent, distressed, bereaved families have been targeted, just takes it to a different level.  Before this, I feel there may have been a question mark amongst the public, ordinary people who go about their daily lives never questioning that they could be targeted, believing such happenings were the territory of the rich and famous.  But how wrong can an assumption be…   I feel people will now start to sit up and take notice.  I hope so because there are far-reaching implications.

But what can we do about it?  Write to every newspaper editor,write to the DPP, petition the PM, contact the police… ?  But hang on – these are the people/organisations who are involved in this scandal !  Get my point ?

No, we support those who are trying to get to the bottom of this whole sordid, pernicious affair.  We show our support for Tom Watson and Chris Bryant !  They are our representatives on this.  And whilst pursuing, their lives might not be so easy…  they deserve our support ! They, along with those who are taking legal action, rather than accepting pay-offs, are the one’s who will lead us to the truth… and importantly, by doing so, hopefully restore our faith in our long trusted institutions…  

Finally, I cannot say how sick I feel that these parents may have been targeted… 

News From Nowhere – How the Papers got Their Stories – BBC Radio 4, Thurs. 24th Feb

This saga, long running, some believe, because of poor investigative rigour and lack of will, for whatever reason, on the part of the Met. police force to pursue many strong leads and a welter of evidence, rumbles on.

Recently, thanks to dogged work to keep the story alive by the Guardian, Independent, Channel 4 Dispatches, concerned Bloggers and ‘victims’ from all walks of life, it appears that the feeble flame is at last showing signs of bursting into the roaring fire it should have been at least six years ago.

On our Blog, #PRESSREFORM, here, are links to many articles and comments made about the whole affair over the past years. An example of these would be this :

Secret Phone-hacking Documents – Guardian

We seem now to be moving ever deeper into the murky world of (questionable at best and corrupt at the very worst) news story information gathering.

Today’s Radio 4 programme, News from Nowhere – How the Papers got Their Stories, with presenter Jon Manel, sought to show that the methods of collecting details and information on personalities in the public eye were not merely confined to phone-hacking. Listen here.

It illuminated the way newspaper journalists used private detectives to gain access to medical records, addresses from phone numbers, details about and information from friends and relatives of targets, vehicle registration numbers, ex-directory numbers and so on. The PIs were skilled in the art of ‘Blagging’ and could elicit very personal details of a target’s life from receptionists, office clerks etc. 

The programme suggested that the illegal practices employed by journalists and sanctioned by their editors were not confined to the News of the World, nor did they cease when the Private Investigator Glen Mulcaire was sentenced to prison. There is evidence that the practices still go on today….which goes some way to explain why most of the media have failed to publicise this whole affair properly.

Have editors, journalists and newspaper proprietors bitten their tongues, squeezed their eyes tight shut and held their breath in the hope that they could delay the inevitable, put off the reckoning which edges ever closer? 

Rosie Robertson