The British press are in an uproar this weekend over the just-won’t-die story about how News International (the U.K. subsidiary of Murdoch’s News Corporation, hereafter referenced as NewsCorp) “journalists” at News of the World (NotW) “hack[ed] into the mobile phone records of celebrities and public figures.” It should be news when journalists are arrested for privacy violations.
In 2007, one NotW reporter, former royal editor Clive Goodman, and one private investigator, Glenn Mulcaire, were convicted and jailed. But the story doesn’t end there.
Last week, Ian Edmondson, who had been news editor at NotW since 2005, and current NotW chief reporter Neville Thurlbeck were “arrested on suspicion of unlawfully intercepting mobile phone voicemail messages.” Scotland Yard has resumed the investigation into phone hacking (“Operation Weeting”).
Adding to the drama, the Prime Minister’s communication chief, Andy Coulson, stepped down in January amid speculation that while editor of NotW he was intimately involved in the scandal, an allegation he has denied even though he resigned after the scandal was made public in 2007.
On Friday, the company admitted liability “for accessing phone message accounts without consent.” Despite the mea culpa, James Murdoch (Chairman and Chief Executive of News Corporation, Europe and Asia) seemingly thinks this is No Big Deal:
You talk about a reputation crisis – actually the business is doing really well. It shows what we were able to do is really put this problem into a box.
Put the “problem” in a box. Ah. Translated: we need to make sure that this admission of liability doesn’t impact our proposed purchase of BSkyB (British Sky Broadcasting), the largest pay-TV broadcaster in the United Kingdom. Oh, and Murdoch the younger was chief executive of BSkyB back when this scandal began.
Dear Misters Murdoch: the “problem” isn’t simply that a “news” organization has admitted liability for illegal activity conducted by its employees after having paid people off to keep quiet.
It’s the nature of that illegal activity, one that goes to the heart of public trust. Although some stories imply that the targets of the illegal eavesdropping were celebrities, the list includes members of the government:
We know that Labour’s culture secretary, Tessa Jowell, who was the minister overseeing the media, was hacked, as was her husband David Mills; the former deputy prime minister, Lord Prescott, has been told that the News of the World was listening to his messages; and it seems likely that Tony Blair’s communications director Alastair Campbell was also a victim.
It is beyond my understanding why one agency of the government would approve this deal while another is investigating criminal wrongdoing. Does corporate behavior truly not matter? Is money all, even in Britain?
Why it’s important on this side of the pond: NewsCorp owns the Wall Street Journal and FOX News.
The Wall Street Journal is the number one newspaper in the United States, based on circulation (2,061,142 – Sept 2010). FOX News, based on 4th quarter 2010 data, is the “solid number one” cable news channel, followed by MSNBC and then CNN. For February 2011, “Fox News Channel had the five top rated programs in cable news” with Bill O’Reilly leading with 3.2 million viewers. (Consumers say that they value local TV news more than cable.)
And corporate culture …. usually begins at the top.