The recent phone hacking scandal revealed Britain’s gutter press plumbing new depths. Rock bottom was struck when news broke that a private investigator working for the News of the World had accessed missing teenager Milly Dowler’s voicemail, deleting messages to allow more recordings. This impeded a police investigation but, far more damagingly, gave false hope to her family that Milly was still alive. She was murdered in 2002.
News Corporation’s CEO Rupert Murdoch is donating £1 million to charity as part of a public apology over the incident. The UK subsidiary News International are also offering the Dowlers £2 million directly. A spokesman said the scale of the damages reflected the ‘wholly exceptional circumstances’ of this case.
Except News International are confusing exceptional with inflammatory. This particular example of phone tapping was vile in the extreme. But it was no exception. The extent of the hacking problem has since been described as ‘industrial scale’. You suspect investigations might only ever scratch the surface of a deep, festering boil in the skin of British democracy.
Initial admissions about one ‘rogue reporter’ swiftly snowballed. From MP’s and actors, the violation of privacy extended to Afghanistan widows, 7/7 victims' relatives, the families of the two murdered Soham schoolgirls … British tabloid journalism hasn't stooped so low since Kelvin MacKenzie’s Sun danced on the graves of the 96 Hillsborough disaster victims with lurid lies about innocent Liverpool FC fans.
The Dowler family reacted angrily to the news of Rebekah Brooks, News of the World editor during the Dowler hacking, receiving a £3.5 million pay-off after resigning from her role as chief executive of News International. This anger was shared by the 200 innocent staff who lost their jobs when Murdoch made the News of the World fall on its sword as his Empire grew increasingly toxic.
The ramifications of the whole scandal will rumble on. The Guardian are resisting Scotland Yard attempts to use the Official Secrets Act to compel the newspaper to disclose confidential sources. The National Union of Journalists general secretary, Michelle Stainstreet said: ‘Journalists have investigated the hacking story and told the truth to the public. They should be congratulated rather than criminalised by the state’.
One good thing that has emerged from the whole affair is Murdoch’s relentless grip on the puppet strings of senior British politicians has been prised apart. One-time bosom buddy of Tony Blair (who is godfather to Murdoch’s 9-year-old daughter, Grace), his name will now be forever associated with the era when the gutter press sunk into the sewers.