Wednesday, July 20, 2011

The hacking scandal

The "Hacking Scandal" in the UK is the major issue currently in Britain and has world wide implications. There are two main aspects of the scandal, first that "The News of the World" newspaper, with the largest circulation in Britain, was systematically "hacking" the phones and voice mail of thousands of people, great and small, in the UK over a long period of time and second that there was a pervasive connection between the London Metropolitan Police and the NotW senior personnel.

The hacking itself was revealed in 2007 when two journalists at the NotW were arrested, tried and found guitly of illegal hacking. But, the investigation ended there. Now it has been revealed that the hacking in fact continued and that even the phones of murder victims, such as the teen Milly Dowler and her family and the families of soldiers killed in action in Afghanistan and Iraq, were hacked. Once this was exposed and extensive information was given to Scotland Yard, a major investigation was launched. At that point the former editor of the NotW, Andy Coulson, British PM David Cameron's former director of communications, was arrested, but another former editor of the NotW and overall editor of all News International papers, Rebekah Brooks at first did not resign, although later her resignation was accepted. Murdoch then closed down the NotW after 168 years of publication. Brooks was then arrested by the Metropolitan Police, but after a 9 hour interrogation she was released

Rupert Murdoch and his son Michael apologized before a Parliamentary Committee yesterday, but accepted no responsibility. They denied any wrong-doing and claimed that the illegal phone tapping was carried out by trusted underlings without their knowledge. Brooks also testified and was able to avoid answering some questions due to her recent arrest, which some suspected was arranged for this purpose. It was suspicious that she was not arrested as soon as the scandal broke, but only a few days before her testimony was due.

Then the Chief of New Scotland Yard, Sir Paul Stephenson, resigned over suspicion of his accepting hospitality from the NotW and his Deputy John Yates also resigned. But, his resignation was related to the fact that after the initial hacking investigation was closed in 2007, he stopped a further investigation within a day, notwithstanding evidence of a wider scandal. This appears to show a very cozy relationship of the highest echelons of the Metropolitan Police with News International. It has been suggested that since Yates was in charge of anti-terrorism efforts, there may have been an exchange of information with the NotW, who were carrying out illegal phone tapping, that the Police were unable to do.

The US aspect of the scandal is that the world-wide News International empire may have been using illegal phone-tapping in the US to obtain information, such as hacking the phones of family members of the victims of 9/11. The FBI is now investigating this, and there are possible parallel investigations starting in Australia, where Murdoch is from, and India, where they own numerous media outlets. Meanwhile PM David Cameron has rushed back from a visit to South Africa to answer question about his contacts with the NotW former personnel. Few think that he will be forced to resign over this scandal, but the mere fact that it is being discussed must worry him. PM CAmeron has promised a neural Committee of Enquiry into these specific events and the media-police relationship in gneral. The opposition Labor leader, Ed Miliband, is making as much capital out of this scandal as he can, but it was under previous Labor Governments, of Tony Blair and Gordon Brown, that these phone tappings and media-police contacts were occuring. Whatever the outcome of this serious scandal, it will make a hell of a movie!


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