2011-07-26 The Murdoch scandal: More to come

The past few months have seen an ongoing series of revelations that have rocked the Murdoch media empire. The News International phone-hacking scandal’s genesis began at the Murdoch owned, now-defunct News of the World UK newspaper.

A new website Murdoch Leaks: www.murdochleaks.org has been setup recently and is accepting information on criminality occurring at Murdoch publications.

Last Monday, Lulzsec hacked into The Sun, pinned a fake news story about Murdoch's death on the homepage and redirected the site to their Twitter page; they also bought down a number of other News Corp and News International websites.

Following this, on Thursday, the hacker known as 'Sabu'(who is rumoured to have connections with LulzSec and Anonymous) claimed to have 4gb worth of emails - or 'sun mails' that might blow up into a series of new revelations with regards to criminality in Murdoch outlets. This information was said to be procured during the hacking. It is not yet known whether Lulzsec will be releasing this information to the public. The Lulzsec twitter has posted, "We're currently working with certain media outlets who have been granted exclusive access to some of the News of the World emails we have."

The media scandal began in May 2000, when Rebekah Brooks (then known as Rebekah Wade) was appointed editor of News of the World; she worked there for three years before moving to the Murdoch-owned The Sun in 2003. During her three years as editor at News of the World, it was alleged that reporters working under her engaged in illegal phone-hacking, including the voicemail of murdered schoolgirl Milly Dowler.

In January 2003, Andy Coulson was appointed editor at News of the World. During his editorship, Coulson appeared with Brooks before a Commons committee where Brooks admitted to paying police for information.

In November 2005, News of the World published a story about Prince William suffering an injury to his knee; Buckingham palace suspected that Prince William’s voicemail had been hacked to get the story and contacted Scotland Yard. The reporter who wrote the story, Clive Goodman, was arrested along with private investigator Glen Mulcaire, for illegal phone-hacking.

On January 26, 2007 Goodman and Mulcaire were incarcerated for illegally intercepting Prince William’s phone messages. Coulson resigned and Colin Myler took over as editor. In March of that year, a senior aide to Rupert Murdoch told a Commons committee that a “rigorous internal investigation” found no evidence of widespread phone-hacking at the publication.

On May 15, 2007 the Press Complaints Commission (the newspaper regulation watchdog), published a report on the phone-hacking allegations but concluded that no illegal activity of that nature had occurred at News of the World.

Sixteen days later Coulson was appointed by then leader of the opposition David Cameron as his media advisor, just four months after Coulson’s resignation as editor at News of the World.

The next major chapter in the saga came came in December of that year. James Murdoch was appointed the chief executive of News Corp’s European and Asian operations. In April 2008 James Murdoch authorised a payment to Gordon Taylor of the Football Association reported to be £700,000 as settlement for a phone-hacking claim; the deal included a suppression order preventing Taylor from discussing the case. James Murdoch later stated that he “did not have a complete picture” of the situation.

On July 8, 2009 details of the payments to Gordon Taylor and two other prominent footballers totaling £1m were published in The Guardian newspaper. The settlement was paid to prevent the naming of other journalists who were involved in phone-hacking at News of the World. Following this, Assistant Met commissioner John Yates stated “after the most careful investigation by experienced detectives” no further investigation would be necessary.

On July 21, 2009, The Guardian revealed that up to 3,000 people may have been victims of illegal phone-hacking by News of the World staff. Subsequently, the Commons culture, media and sport committee interviewed News International executives about the claims. Coulson told the committee that he has “never condoned the use of phone-hacking and denied having any knowledge of incidences where it took place”.

On September 1, 2009 Brooks left The Sun to take up the position of chief executive of News International. News International chairman Les Hinton then appeared before the Commons committee and denied that Clive Goodman was paid to keep quiet about the scandal.

In February 2010 a Commons culture, media and sport committee report found no evidence that Coulson had known phone-hacking took place at News of the World. The report, however, did conclude that it was “inconceivable” that only Goodman was aware of it. On March 9, The Guardian reported that PR man Max Clifford was paid €1m to drop legal proceedings that could have exposed more of the reporters involved in phone-hacking at News of the World.

On September 1, 2010 a New York Times investigation quoted ex-News of the World reporter Sean Hoare, who stated that phone-hacking and other similar practices were encouraged at the publication. Hoare also told the BBC that phone-hacking was “endemic” at the paper and that Coulson instructed him to engage in it. This was backed up by former News of the World reporter, Paul McMullan who told The Guardian that illegal reporting techniques were widespread within the tabloid.

Two weeks later, Scotland Yard reopened the inquiry and questioned Hoare and McMullan as witnesses, but nothing came of it as no new evidence was uncovered. Following this, on September 17, Lord Prescott launched legal action seeking a judicial review of the investigation carried out by Scotland Yard.

On January 5, 2011 News of the World suspended its assistant editor Ian Emondson following allegations by News of the World reporter Glenn Mulcaire that he was commissioned to engage in phone-hacking by Emondson.

Soon after, Coulson resigned as David Cameron’s media advisor, blaming the coverage of the phone-hacking scandal. “I stand by what I’ve said about those events but when the spokesman needs a spokesmen, it’s time to move on,” he said.

The following month the High Court ordered former private investigator Glen Mulcaire to reveal who commissioned him to hack phones. In March, the BBC broadcasted allegations that former senior executive editor of News of the World Alex Marunchak had been implicated in the scandal.

In April 2011, former news editor Ian Edmondson, senior reporter Neville Thurlbeck and journalist James Weatheerup were all arrested. At this point News International admitted liability.

In June, 2011, actress Sienna Miller settled for £100,000 in damages and costs from News of the World; Sky football pundit Andy Gray also settled for £20,000 in damages after it was exposed that his voicemail had been illegally accessed by News of the World staff. On June 20, 300 News of the World emails from News Internationals solicitors were given to Scotland Yard; allegedly showing that Coulson had authorised payments to police officers.

On July 4, 2011 The Guardian reported that News of the World had hacked into the voicemail of murdered schoolgirl Milly Dowler, during the period when Brooks was editor. Brooks denied any knowledge of the activity and stated that it was “inconceivable” that she knew: Just days later, News International chief executive James Murdoch closed News of the World.

On July 11, Coulson was arrested over charges relating to phone-hacking and illegal payments to police – he was questioned for nine hours. Goodman was also arrested on suspicion of making illegal payments to the police. The same day the British PM announced two separate inquiries into the entire scandal.

Two days later it was revealed that the scandal had spread to other News International newspapers. The Sunday Times was alleged to have illegally acquired private financial and property details of Gordon Brown when he was the chancellor; it was also accused of accessing private medical records about Mr Brown’s Son Fraser.

The same week, Rupert Murdoch’s News Corporation withdrew its plans to bid for full ownership of satellite broadcaster BskyB; the move came just before MP’s were to vote for a motion with cross party support calling on him to withdraw the bid. News Corp deputy chairman Chase Carey stated that the bid had become “too difficult to progress in this climate”.

The scandal then spread to the US, with US politicians calling for the FBI to investigate News Corp’s US publications following allegations that News of the World staff attempted to buy phone records of people that died in the 9/11 attacks from a New York police officer. There were also calls for a US-led investigation into reported payments to UK police – which could expose News Corp to charges under US anti-corruption laws.

The following day, Brooks resigned from her post as News International chief executive. In a public statement Brooks said: “I feel a deep sense of responsibility for the people we have hurt.” Les Hinton also resigned from his position as a senior News Corp executive – Hinton was head of News International from 1995-2007 when News of the World was engaging in phone-hacking. Following these resignations, Rupert Murdoch personally apologised to Milly Dowler’s family.

On July 17 Murdoch chief Rebekah Brooks was arrested and detained by British police on charges of conspiring to illegally intercept communications as well as corruption, in the form of bribing police.

Brooks was apprehended by detectives working on Operation Weeting – the UK Metropolitan Police’s phone hacking investigation, and Operation Elveden – the investigation into illicit payments to police officers, a July 18 Guardian article reported. More information on Brook's arrest can be found here: http://wlcentral.org/node/2048

On July 17, hours after Brook’s arrest, Sir Paul Stephenson announced that he was resigning as commissioner of London’s force because of “speculation and accusations” over his links to Neil Wallis – the former News of the World executive editor who was arrested in early July. Wallis had worked for the London police as a PR consultant for a year until September 2010. Sir Paul said that it was not his decision to hire Wallis and that he had no knowledge that he was linked to the phone-hacking scandal. “I had no knowledge of the extent of this disgraceful practice and the repugnant nature of the selection of victims that is now emerging...I will not lose any sleep over my personal integrity,” he said. The following day, Metropolitan Police Assistant Commissioner John Yates resigned as well.

Former News of the World journalist Sean Hoare was found dead at his home on July 17, 2011; police say the death is not being treated as suspicious. Hoare was the first former News of the World and The Sun reporter to go public with claims that illegal news-gathering was endemic at the papers and that former News of the World editor Andy Coulson knew about the practices. Sean Hoare was expected to give evidence to a pending judicial inquiry; he was found dead on the eve before the hearing was to take place.
More information on Sean Hoare's story can be found here: http://wlcentral.org/node/2052

On July 19, News Corporation chiefs Rupert Murdoch and his son James Murdoch appeared before MPs in a parliamentary inquiry to face questioning over their knowledge of the phone-hacking scandal. Rupert Murdoch told the inquiry that he was not aware of the extent of the phone hacking and had been misled by his staff. He said that responsibility lay not with him but with the people that he had trusted and the people that they had trusted. When probed about Brooks’ payment to police for information, Rupert Murdoch replied: “I am now aware of that, I was not aware at the time. I’m also aware that she amended that considerably very quickly afterwards.”

The following day, UK Prime Minister David Cameron cut short his visit to South Africa to make a Commons statement of the phone-hacking scandal. He stated that with hind sight he would not have appointed Coulson as his media advisor.

On July 22, David Cameron announced that James Murdoch has more questions to answer about the phone-hacking scandal following statements made by two former News of the World senior executives in which they elucidated that he knew about a key email, which contradicted evidence he gave to the MPs during the parliamentary inquiry. Labour MP Tom Watson has asked police to investigate the discrepancy.