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Hugh Grant, Murdoch and phone hacking | #hacking | #cybersecurity | #infosec | #comptia | #pentest | #hacker


Sam Hawley: It must feel like a never-ending battle for Rupert Murdoch. His British newspaper group is continuing to face legal action more than a decade after the phone hacking scandal came to a head. Now he’s settled with the actor Hugh Grant, who was accusing the Sun newspaper of everything from bugging his car to robbing his home to get stories. Today, ABC Media Watch host Paul Barry on how Murdoch has paid out many millions to avoid trial and what it all means for his empire. I’m Sam Hawley on Gadigal land in Sydney. This is ABC News Daily. Paul, before we get into why Hugh Grant has pulled out of legal action against the Sun newspaper and news group newspapers which own it, let’s run through what the actor alleges.

Paul Barry: Well, unlike with the news of the world, it’s not just that they hacked his phone. He says they burgled his home and office to plant bugging devices and steal documents. They blagged his medical records, which means they impersonated someone, either him or some person in authority, so they could find out what his medical problems, if any, were. They listened to his landline, they bugged his car, and all of it designed to write stories about him. Maybe he’s got cancer or something like that. That would be big news. So they’re trying desperately to mine all his personal information for some sort of story.

Sam Hawley: And you mentioned the news of the world. This goes back a very long way, doesn’t it? It’s a scandal that’s been going on for a while.

Paul Barry: It goes back until, well, probably until the 90s, but the first real discovery was in 2005, I think, when Prince Harry and Prince William had their messages intercepted and the news of the world ran a story about Prince Harry that he felt could only have come from a message that he left with Prince William. And a couple of guys from the news of the world were arrested. Clive Goodman, the royal correspondent, and Glenn Mulcair, the guy who was doing the hacking. And those guys were then jailed. And at the time, the news of the world said, Murdoch said, oh, look, this is two rogue reporters, you know, rotten apple in the barrel. Nothing like this is going on anywhere else. We’ve absolutely shocked and horrified. And, of course, you know, let’s move on.

News report: What started as a limited scandal with a royal reporter and private investigator jailed has now spiralled into a full-blown crisis for the news of the world and its parent company, News International.

Paul Barry: And that was obviously a total lie. And, in fact, they’d been doing it to thousands of people. And it was their sort of go-to method of getting information, basically, was to hack into people’s mobile phone messages.

Sam Hawley: Mm, yeah, not just Hugh Grant. You know, who are some of the other people caught up in this?

Paul Barry: Lots of celebrities, because that’s who they like writing about. So people like Madonna, Noel Gallagher, one of the Spice Girls, Geri Halliwell, Kate Moss. But, I mean, most of the people that you’d read about in the tabloid newspapers, they were either successfully hacking their phones or trying to. In addition to that, there’d be a whole lot of ordinary people, all sorts of people.

News report: It soon emerged they had also targeted the families of dead soldiers and of victims of the London bombings.

Paul Barry: And the one that really got them into trouble was that they hacked the phone of a 13-year-old girl who’d been murdered, called Millie Dowler. It was said that they had deleted her messages, so therefore giving hope to the parents that she was still alive. That, in fact, turned out not to be correct, but they had hacked into her mobile phone after she disappeared, and that caused an absolute scandal. That was in, I think, 2011, and that’s when the whole thing blew. And in the meantime, between 2005 and 2011, Nick Davis from The Guardian had been following the story and burrowing and burrowing and burrowing and finding all these documents that had been hidden by the police or kept in some trash bags in some room and saying, look, it’s much wider. And the Murdoch newspapers were constantly denying it and saying, this is ridiculous, this is a witch hunt. And then the Millie Dowler case basically blew the lid off and everyone became concerned.

Sam Hawley: And, Paul, we shouldn’t really lose sight of what was actually being printed in the tabloid papers at that point, the damage it was doing to so many people.

Paul Barry: A lot of people focus on the illegality of this and say that’s the real problem, the illegality of phone hacking and robbing people’s homes and stuff. I actually think there’s a far bigger crime involved or a far bigger scandal, and that is the use to which they put this information that they found. So they would write about these people getting pregnant or writing about them having abortions or writing about all sorts of private information, and they went after people and really destroyed or damaged their lives. There’s a woman called Charlotte Church who was a singer, and she actually sung. She was a young 13, 14-year-old. Moving towards 16, they had a countdown clock on when she was going to be losing her virginity, basically. She sung at Rupert Murdoch’s wedding, and she did so, I think, because she felt that if she did that, the tabloids would leave her alone. But they had stories about her father in bed with a couple of women, the fight between the father and the mother. It was absolutely disgraceful. I spent about two or three days in the British Library. When I was writing my book on phone hacking back in 2013, I spent a few days in the library, the newspaper library, and went through copies of the News of the World and The Sun. And what they did to people like George Michael, tried to do to Elton John and Sienna Miller, I think is an absolute disgrace, and it’s, in my view, far worse than the illegal methods that they used to get the information.

Sam Hawley: It’s terrible. And Sienna Miller, who was caught up in all of this, of course, she was making that exact point when she spoke outside a court in London after she actually settled her case back in 2021. Absolutely horrible time for her.

Sienna Miller, actress: They very nearly ruined my life. I have certainly seen how they have ruined the lives of others. Their behaviour shattered me, damaged my reputation at times beyond repair, and caused me to accuse my family and friends of selling information that catapulted me into a state of intense paranoia and fear.

Sam Hawley: Mm, what an absolute scandal. And then, of course, who could forget Rupert Murdoch appearing before a parliamentary inquiry in the UK into the scandal, saying, what, it was the most humble day of his life.

Rupert Murdoch, media mogul: I would just like to say one sentence. This is the most humble day of my life.

Paul Barry: Exactly, having days before just closed, shut down the news of the world in an attempt to damage control.

Sam Hawley: Yeah, so let’s come back to today and Hugh Grant.

News report: The British actor Hugh Grant has settled a privacy case against the publisher of The Sun newspaper in the UK. The film star was part of a larger campaign accusing newsgroup newspapers of widespread unlawful information gathering.

Sam Hawley: Hugh Grant, of course, has now settled and it was for, we assume, a huge sum, although undisclosed amount of money, from Rupert Murdoch’s newspaper group. But he’s actually really unhappy about this, isn’t he? He wanted his day in court. What did he have to say about that?

Paul Barry: Well, I think they wanted their day in court because they wanted it finally established that this stuff had taken place and they wanted to leave their evidence and show the world what they knew and hopefully get a decision, which was that The Sun had done something illegal. Murdoch’s always maintained that The Sun did absolutely nothing illegal but seemed to be desperate to avoid going to court to have that tested. So Hugh Grant didn’t go to court because he was offered a big settlement and the way the law works in Britain, if you’re suing someone, the court rules that even if you win, if you win one cent less than you’ve been offered in settlement, you end up having to pay the other side’s legal fees as well as your own. So it’s very punitive. It’s designed to push cases through the courts and make people not fight cases that can easily be settled. And so that’s what he’s done, basically, because he reckons he was likely to end up paying £10 million in legal fees if he went ahead.

Sam Hawley: So basically Murdoch has offered so much money it became way too risky for Hugh Grant financially to pursue this matter in court.

Paul Barry: Exactly. Even if he’d won, he could have ended up paying £10 million. It would have been a disaster.

Sam Hawley: The Sun and the Murdochs have repeatedly denied that they did anything unlawful and this settlement does not mean they admit liability, does it?

Paul Barry: No, it doesn’t, and they’ve been absolutely desperate to avoid admitting liability and desperate to avoid going into court to have these matters tested. They’ve settled 1,300 cases of phone hacking or illegal information gathering by their newspapers, by The Sun and mainly the News of the World, and not once have they allowed a case to go into court to have the evidence heard. And that must tell you something about what they’ve done, it seems to me. Why would you be so desperate not to go to court if you’ve got a good case, if you’ve done nothing illegal, and if you can show you’ve done nothing illegal? Wouldn’t you go to court and go, well, I’ve done nothing illegal, here’s the proof? And you would then win the case and you wouldn’t have to fork out £10 million or, as it turns out, £1 billion, which is what hacking has cost them so far.

Sam Hawley: Prince Harry is also part of this legal action, isn’t he?

Paul Barry: He is, yes. He’s got a rather broader action than Hugh Grant because he’s also, I think he was suing a number of tabloid newspapers and he was suing The Sun also for mobile phone hacking and that part of his case has been disallowed because court basically said, look, you should have told us about this years ago, the time has passed for that one, but he’s still suing on the same sorts of things as Grant.

Sam Hawley: What about him? Will he also have to settle? We know he wants to fight the tabloid press, don’t we?

Paul Barry: Yes, Prince Harry says he wants to go to trial, which would be in January next year. He says he’s on a mission to prove how awful the tabloid press are and this is part of his mission, but I would think it’s absolutely implausible that he’s going to, well, I think it’s extremely unlikely that he’s going to go to court because he’s going to be in the same position as Hugh Grant, which is, he has a huge whack of money, if the settlement is less than this, you’re going to have to pay all our legal fees as well, so I think he’s in exactly the same position as Grant and will reluctantly not go to court and take the money. But he certainly is on a mission to punish the tabloid press for what he sees as their appalling behaviour and let’s face it, their behaviour is appalling. I mean, there’s no doubting that.

Sam Hawley: Paul, I guess what is clear from all of this is that it’s really hard to take on someone as rich and powerful as Rupert Murdoch, even when you’re rich and powerful.

Paul Barry: Well, I’m not sure that that’s the case.I kind of disagree with that. I think it shows, well, I mean, look at it this way. 1,300 people have settled, a billion pounds it’s cost the Murdochs, they had to close down the News of the World, they lost the B-Sky-B deal, James’s succession to running the Empire was knocked on the head, so I think there’s a number of things that have gone wrong for them and I think you could say that is a pretty good win for the people who’ve been after the newspapers. But nevertheless, the Murdochs are richer and probably as powerful as ever and having got into this huge mess in Britain, they then sold the Fox film studios for $70 billion to Disney, so they’re not short of a quid. So it hasn’t brought them down as a lot of people thought or hoped or forecast back in Britain in 2011, but it certainly has been a win for the people who’ve taken them on, I think.

Sam Hawley: And what about the Sun newspaper, Paul? What’s it had to say about all of this and about the settlement with Hugh Grant?

Paul Barry: It’s said nothing at all. Just sort of nothing to see here, let’s move on. Hasn’t even reported the case.

Sam Hawley: Hasn’t even put it in the paper.

Paul Barry: No.

Sam Hawley: Paul Barry is the host of ABC TV’s Media Watch. Catch it live on Monday evenings at 9.15 or on iview. This episode was produced by Bridget Fitzgerald and Sam Dunn with audio production by Anna John. Our supervising producer is David Coady. I’m Sam Hawley. Just a shout out to thank you for all the feedback on our Tuesday episode “The pricing trap doubling some power bills”. We really appreciate hearing your experiences and be assured we will be returning to thatissue. ABC News Daily will be back again tomorrow. Thanks for listening.

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