Latest: Gordon Brown ‘hacked’ by the Sunday Times

The media scandal gets worse and worse. With the disclosure that even 'serious' papers have been guilty of criminal breaches, the entire British press is in a full-blown crisis.

Yesterday the tabloid hacking scandal that has gripped politicians, top policemen and national newspaper editors for the past week, exploded in their faces.

At one point in the afternoon extraordinary developments were breaking so fast that seasoned media professionals could only stand and gape as they stood in huddles round the live TV news.

Perhaps the biggest shock was that Gordon Brown, while Prime Minister, had been repeatedly 'attacked' by journalists under commission from both The Sun and the upmarket and respected Sunday Times.

The Sunday Times had hired an actor to pose as Brown on six occasions in order to get his private bank account information from Abbey National. The paper also hired a conman to trick London lawyers Allen & Overy into handing over details from his private files.

The Sun managed to get access to his infant son Fraser's medical records, which disclosed the then deeply personal and private information that the boy had cystic fibrosis. The editor at the time was Rebekah Brooks, who is now the CEO of News International, under fire for the News of the World scandal. She telephoned Gordon Brown and his wife Sarah to tell them that The Sun had the story. They had only just heard the diagnosis themselves and were still in great distress. She published the story anyway.

Other damning news yesterday included the allegation that two Scotland Yard protection officers sold the private contact details of the Queen, Prince Charles and many of their friends to the News of the World for £1,000. Police officers received a total of £130,000 from the newspaper for other private information.

In the midst of all this, what would normally have been the top story became a relative footnote: Rupert Murdoch's bid to become the sole owner of BskyB was delayed indefinitely and referred to the powerful Competition Commission for review.

Cultural shift

Many believe this scandal is now bigger than the banking crisis and the row over MP's expenses. And that beneath it there is a deeper, irreversible change going on.

Mainstream media, led by newspapers, and run by a very few powerful and mega-rich people, has been in slow decline for a decade. But now, say the experts, the model is so badly damaged and discredited by the successive revelations of criminal and horrible practices – it will quickly die.

What will rise up in its place is a more messy and complicated web culture in which everyone has a voice and there is no longer a powerful elite of editors and opinion-formers shaping and selecting the news.

You Decide

  1. Are newspapers all as bad as each other? Should they be banned? If so, what would you have instead?
  2. How significant is it that this scandal has jumped from the tabloid press to a 'serious' newspaper like theSunday Times.

Activities

  1. Write two editorials commenting on the latest scandal – one for theSunday Timesand one forThe Guardian. How would they be different?
  2. How will this series of scandals change the media landscape? Write a short article describing how you imagine the media will work ten or twenty years from now.

Some People Say...

“If newspapers die – I'll miss my daily newspaper.”

What do you think?

Q & A

So how did the news break?
In quick succession. At 2.54pm Scotland Yard put out a statement saying that News International had been systematically leaking news about their investigation in order to undermine it. The Gordon Brown story was revealed at 3.54pm. At 4.12pm David Cameron announced he would be 'incredibly angry' if his press secretary Andy Coulson (former editor of theNews of the World) had lied to him. The BskyB decision was announced at 4.43pm.
What next then?
There will be many more scalps as the rage for justice sweeps through the public and political arenas. How long before James Murdoch or even Rupert Murdoch himself is accused? A few weeks ago this was not a serious suggestion. Now it certainly is.
And the rest of the British press?
Likewise. Now clearly in the line of fire.

Word Watch

Cystic fibrosis
A life threatening genetic disease that affects the lungs. More than 9,000 people in the UK suffer from the condition.
Contact details
Telephone numbers, email accounts and postal addresses for a famous person are all valuable for journalists and can be worth significant sums of money. They can be used as a way of asking for interviews or comment, or for more underhand activities like hacking voicemails, snooping in dustbins and aggressive questioning or harassment.
Competition commission
An independent body which is in charge of promoting healthy competition in the economy. They have a duty to prevent the emergence of monopolies, where one company becomes too big or powerful.

Subjects

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