Tuesday, 5 July 2011

Full disclosure is the only route now for Murdoch

Rupert Murdoch must have thought he was going to have a good summer. The phone-hacking scandal was dying down, Sienna Miller had been paid off and the Culture Secretary had kindly waved through his takeover of BskyB.

And then we find out that the News of the World (NOTW) had been hacking into Milly Dowler’s phone! There are multiple reasons why this is a horrendous story for News International.

Firstly, from a journalistic ethics point of view, it is hard to scrape any lower than this. Regardless of the potential effect on the family of hacking and, crucially deleting, messages it is highly likely that, at best, the NOTW’s actions diverted police resources and, at worst, de-railed an entire investigation at a crucial time.

Secondly, these disclosures widen the dates of the phone hacking back to 2002. We now have a four-year window when we know, categorically, that phone-hacking was taking place, namely 2002 to 2006 not the two-year window (2004-2006) that News International has claimed all along.

Thirdly, Rebekah Brooks, for the first time, can be said to have been in a position, namely editor where, even if she didn’t know, then she should have known what was going on. Previously, under the two-year 2004 to 2006 window she could claim to have been out of the loop.

Finally, this story now has all the potential to gain a foothold in the public consciousness. Previously, exposure of the NOTW’s antics has been almost exclusively the territory of The Guardian and, latterly, The Telegraph, but with the Prime Minister wading in the whole media corps will stoke a strong sense of revulsion on the part of the public.

What does Rupert Murdoch do now? My own view, and it’s long overdue, is that only full disclosure of all the facts, regardless of how painful it will be, will stem the tide now for News International. That means a full cleansing of the augean stables, sackings, full compliance with the police investigation, attendance and an end to stonewalling at Parliamentary Select Committee enquiries and full co-operation with what is looking increasingly like a full Public Inquiry.

PR statements and front page apologies are not going to cut it anymore. What’s more Rupert is probably going to have to cut Brooks free at some point. This will be painful as she is his direct line into Downing Street, but even Nixon eventually sacked his Chief of Staff HR Haldeman.

The Watergate analogy is not cheap. What started out as a “third rate burglary” in the words of the 37th President, eventually brought him down. Murdoch is probably insulated from that fate but he will be keen to ensure that his family are bomb-proof on this one which probably explains why James Murdoch has recently been moved to New York.

Rebekah though is still in London!


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