The Phone-Hacking Scandal
It is often said that “we get the press we deserve”. Therefore, whilst people generally were not too bothered about the allegations of phone-hacking whilst it was thought that this was limited to celebrities and politicians, this all changed once the allegations came out that the phones of Milly Dowler and the bereaved families of other victims of other serious crimes had been hacked as well. Faced with potential boycotts of the paper and high-profile advertisers jumping ship in their droves, the country’s largest selling newspaper, The News of The World, was forced to close and published its last edition on Sunday.
Whilst the Murdoch empire will no doubt simply start up a new tabloid Sunday newspaper under a different name, the impact of the closure of the News Of The World cannot be under-estimated. This is particularly so in view of the fact that it was not as a result of any police or Government investigation that brought about its demise, but was largely down to the the actions of other newspapers and particularly the Guardian in exposing the scandal.
The scandal has shown not only the inadequacy of the present system of press regulation but also raises serious questions regarding the relationship between the police and the press. The evidence showing the extent of the phone –hacking undertaken by the investigator Glenn Mulcaire has been available since 2006. Despite this, even after the issue was again raised by the Guardian in 2009, the police were still at that time saying that there was no fresh evidence to justify the opening of a new enquiry.
More serious questions regarding the relationship between the press and the police have been raised by the news that payments have been made by journalists to certain members of the police for information. Again, however, the evidence regarding this has been available for years and yet nothing has been done. As long ago as 2006, the Information Commissioner’s Office published a report called “What Price Privacy” which identified 305 named journalists who had made alleged payments to a private investigator for “unlawful information” in breach of the Data Protection Act. This included information not only on celebrities and politicians but, for example, details of a painter and decorator who had once worked for a lottery winner. The Report specifically referred to information obtained from the police and yet nothing was done to investigate this further or take action against those involved in these acts.
The politicians have all been quick to jump on the “band-wagon” and call for an ever – increasing number of enquiries which will probably tell us little more than we know already that the whole system has failed. That is not say that this latest scandal to hit the press does not raise important questions and what we need to see is a full and proper police investigation carried out and prosecutions brought against those from both the media and the police who it can be proved are guilty of these illegal practices. This should, however, be just the start and the whole system of regulation of the press and media ownership generally needs a complete overhaul as only through this can we start to re-build our confidence in the press and actually end up with a press that we do deserve.