Author's note: This is an article I wrote on the News of the World phone hacking scandal, which I had to do in a creative writing course I took in college. This was finished in February earlier this year.
There were many people whose phones were hacked by News of the World, celebrities and politicians, but the most shocking was the allegation that the newspaper had hacked into murdered schoolgirl Milly Dowler’s phone. The News of the World has given compensation and have apologised profusely to the general public for what they did, but the demise of the newspaper still came.
Two editors of the newspaper at the time of the hacking, along with the Murdochs, have all said they knew nothing about it, which makes us wonder what really happens behind closed doors at their offices. Do all journalists acquire their stories without telling their editors what they’re doing, and when they put these articles into the paper, doesn’t their editor proof read their articles and question how they obtained their information? Then again maybe it’s just about selling newspapers and making money.
Sunday 10th July 2011, the last day News of the World provided what they thought was in the public interest. When the newspaper came to a halt, many things came to light, most of which no boss should be proud of. As everything about this particular newspaper came to light, it made the public sit back and think about what they had been reading, or rather what the News of the World, and in turn News International, had been drip feeding them. When Rebekah Brooks and Andy Coulson said they knew nothing about what was going on, the public turned to each other and scoffed. Of course the editors knew, but of course they were all passing the buck.
What’s most astonishing about the newspaper Rupert Murdoch owned was how much he was able to influence the public. In December 2010, Vince Cable, the Business Secretary, had the responsibility of deciding whether News Corporation could take over BskyB. However, he was stripped of his role on Tuesday 21st of December, after telling undercover reporters at The Daily Telegraph that he was “declaring war” on Rupert Murdoch. Less than 48 hours later there was a meal at the home of Rebekah Brooks, the then chief executive of News International. The event was attended by James Murdoch, his wife, the Prime Minister David Cameron and Jeremy Clarkson amongst others.
Everyone now wonders what will happen next. Will it come out that other newspapers have also hacked into people’s phones? And what are the government and the Press Complaints Commission going to do to prevent something like this happening again?
It became clear that something needed to be done. The government and the public had to find out how a newspaper could get away with something like this for so long, and the government had to find out what they could do to prevent something like this happening again. On the 13th July 2011, after being pressurised into questioning the journalists and editors of News of the World, Prime Minister David Cameron announced a two-part inquiry, named the Leveson Inquiry.
The actress Sienna Miller was one of the people to be questioned at the inquiry: “I felt like I was living in some sort of video game with people kind of pre-empting every move I made as a result of accessing my private information.” She went on to say: ‘‘I would often find myself, at the age of 21, at midnight, running down a dark street on my own with 10 men chasing me. And the fact they had cameras in their hands made that legal.”
JK Rowling was another celebrity who had her phone hacked by News of the World and has been questioned at the Leveson Inquiry. She told how her daughter once came home from school with a letter from a journalist found in her backpack: “I felt such a sense of invasion,’’ Rowling said: ‘‘It’s very difficult to say how angry I felt that my five-year-old daughter’s school was no longer a place of complete security from journalists.’’
One question on the country’s lips, will be what will happen now. At the moment newspapers and magazines are overseen by the PCC; however, the PCC has no legal powers and all newspapers and magazines voluntarily adhere to the rulings of the commission, making the industry self-regulating. The PCC has received criticism for its lack of action in the News of the World hacking scandal and many people including MPs and the Prime Minister David Cameron, have called for it to be replaced with a new system.
On Tuesday 29th November 2011, Paul McMullen, a former News of the World Features Editor, hit out at his former employer, accusing Andy Coulson of introducing phone hacking at the paper. Paul McMullan was questioned at the Leveson inquiry, Lord Justice Leveson had to warn him several times, as he risked incriminating himself as he spoke about alleged criminal wrongdoing during his time at the paper. When asked whether his News of the World Editors, Rebekah Brooks and Andy Coulson, knew voicemail messages were being intercepted, McMullan said: “Yes... I could go a bit further than that.”
He added: “Andy Coulson brought that practice [phone hacking] wholesale with him when he was made Deputy Editor. They should have had the strength of conviction to say, ‘Yes, sometimes you have to stray into black or grey illegal areas’... instead they said ‘we didn’t know they were doing it’. They’re the scum of journalism for trying to drop me and my colleagues in it.” He then added: “For 21 years you have a culture of illegality of phone hacking. What you have is a future prime minister cosying up and being moulded by the arch-criminal, Rebekah Brooks, the criminal-in-chief.”
He later said that hacking into murdered schoolgirl Milly Dowler’s phone was “not a bad thing for a well-meaning journalist to do”, claiming that they were trying to find the schoolgirl while she was still missing because they had such little faith in the police to do the job.
When Hugh Grant was questioned at the inquiry in November, there was one thing he said which could determine whether something like this could happen again. “What is in the public interest, and what is of the interest to the public?”
As they are still currently in the midst of the inquiry, one question sticks in everyone’s minds, who will now make sure something like this doesn’t happen again. When the Leveson inquiry opened on Monday 14th November 2011, Lord Justice Leveson said: “The press provides an essential check on all aspects of public life. That is why any failure within the media affects all of us. At the heart of this Inquiry, therefore, may be one simple question: who guards the guardians?”