Like the Wars of the Roses, Frank Sinatra’s much-postponed retirement and the proceedings of the Chilcot inquiry, the newspaper phone-hacking scandal seems to go on for ever. With the conclusion of the Leveson investigation into the British press, and the jailing of some journalists, many in the industry may have hoped that, using a contemporary phrase, a “line might be drawn” under this unrelenting media nightmare.
It seems not. Rebekah Brooks appears set to return to the chief executive role at News UK, formerly News International – one she vacated when she had to face serious legal charges. She was judged innocent and cleared; nonetheless, many were shocked at what they learnt about journalistic methods at the News of the World and The Sun, and the behaviour of senior people at the titles, legal or not. Whatever lessons have been learnt and qualities Ms Brooks brings to the Murdoch organisation, even the most skilled public-relations exercise could not convince anyone that this was a “fresh start”. Rupert Murdoch has once again signalled a sort of rugged defiance towards the rest of the world, and displayed a remarkable sense of loyalty, even chivalry, to one of those closest to him. It is a bold move, made bolder by the uncertain outlook for News UK.
For he and Ms Brooks may also soon be involved with fresh legal proceedings. If the Crown Prosecution Service does recommend the bringing of corporate-liability charges relating to the Operation Weeting hacking investigation then Mr Murdoch’s and Ms Brooks’s agonies are not over, at least so far as their corporate responsibilities are concerned. The focus will be on whether any offences had taken place “with the consent or connivance” of directors and managers of the companies, and thus again exposing the intimate workings of the News International machine to a public in turns bored and appalled by what went on.
When will it all end? The truth, probably, is that it never will, such was the scale of what went on at News International and many other groups. The victims, understandably, are unlikely ever to be satisfied, and fresh revelations will continue to emerge for many years. In the meantime, the reputation of British journalism – which has, after all, exposed the truth about the Iraq war, the MPs’ expenses scandal, and the sexual grooming of children in Rotherham and elsewhere – continues to be trashed.
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21 April, 2017