Murdered teenager’s voicemail 'hacked by tabloid'.
The latest chapter in the story of phone hacking at the News of the World has shocked the UK: a missing girl's phone messages were listened to, suggesting to police she was alive.
Until now, some members of the establishment have held off from condemning Rupert Murdoch's media empire for its involvement in illegal hacking of mobile phones.
But this week, as it emerged that private investigators working for the News of the World had been listening to voicemail on the phone of murdered 13-year-old Milly Dowler, condemnation was near-universal. The fact that the police investigation may have been misled into thinking she was still alive because there was activity on her mobile account, has prompted widespread anger.
'If these allegations are shown to be true, then we have sunk to a new low in what is already a murky saga,' said John Whittingdale, chairman of the parliamentary committee that specialises in media issues.
Rebekah Brooks, who was News of the World editor at the time, is now chief executive of News International, the company run by the Murdoch family, which owns the paper, along with The Sun, The Times and Sunday Times, and which is trying to purchase a controlling stake in BskyB, the television network.
She has denied all knowledge of the alleged hacking. So does Andy Coulson, who was her deputy editor at the time, and who had to resign as David Cameron's director of communications in January because of persistent questions about how much he knew of illegal investigation practices while he was in charge of the paper.
Here, the picture becomes very confusing: the Prime Minister has consistently defended his close ally Mr Coulson. Mr Cameron, like many politicians, spends time courting and being courted by top Murdoch executives and editors: he wants as much support from these newspapers as possible for his Government and the Conservative Party.
Now Ed Miliband, the leader of the opposition, has called on Ms Brooks to resign. And even Conservative commentators are scenting danger.
'Up to now,' writes James Forsyth of The Spectator, 'it has been a scandal of huge interest in political and media circles but hasn't cut through to the public. But this could all be about to change.'
Public anger that an ordinary family facing a tragedy was having their privacy invaded by tabloid journalists and their agents could also turn on the police. The original investigation into phone hacking in 2005 and 2006 has had to be constantly revisited as this scandal continues.
Now that it's a vulnerable family rather than a footballer, actress or royal who has been targeted, will the readers force Mr Murdoch – and Mr Cameron – to distance themselves from Ms Brooks?
- 'Tabloid excesses are the price we pay for living in a free society'. Do you agree or disagree? Why?
- The House of Commons is to hold a long debate on this scandal today – what should they decide? Tighter privacy laws? A tougher press regulator? Or a full public inquiry into journalistic ethics?
- Choose a way to make your views known about this story: Write your own opinionated column either for or against tabloid investigations; contact companies who advertise in the News of the World; write a class letter to the Press Complaints Commission explaining your views.
- Read Rebekah Brooks' letter to staff explaining her position. What is its tone? What would you do and say in her place? Do some role play and media interviews in character.
Some People Say...
“If you buy a tabloid, you are involved in crimes they commit.”
What do you think?
Q & A
- Why haven't the police investigated this alleged hacking if it happened in 2002?
- Questions have been asked about whether police and tabloids have an unhealthily cosy relationship. Milly Dowler's name was in the paperwork seized from the private detective who was sent to jail in 2007 for breaking into mobile voicemails of royal aides.
- Why do the readers put up with this behaviour?
- Bluntly, people buy newspapers with scandalous stories in them.The News of the World can call itself Britain's biggest selling paper because its readership is nearly seven and a half million.
- But surely this has crossed the line?
- That's the consensus. Dialling into someone else's mobile and picking up their messages is illegal. When it's done by a newspaper to an ordinary citizen, disrupting a missing person search, it becomes even more shocking.