Editors turn on government over hacking probe

1563

Two of the most influential media figures in Britain accused the government of using a scandal over journalists hacking phones as an excuse to clamp down on the press and prevent it from probing the misdeeds of the powerful.

Showing much of the anger often evident in his tabloid, Daily Mail editor Paul Dacre said the calls for a clampdown on the industry were being led by a government that had until recently indulged in “sickening genuflections” before Rupert Murdoch’s media empire.
“Am I alone in detecting the rank smells of hypocrisy and revenge in the political class’s current moral indignation over a press that dared to expose their greed and corruption,” he told an inquiry into press standards called by the government after the scandal, Reuters reports.

Britain’s highly competitive press is under intense scrutiny in the wake of revelations that people working for Murdoch’s hugely popular News of the World tabloid had hacked the phones of thousands to generate stories.

The scandal caused a wave of public anger which ultimately brought about the closure of the tabloid and shook the political establishment. Prime Minister David Cameron was also damaged by his decision to hire former News of the World editor Andy Coulson as his communications chief in 2007.

Kelvin MacKenzie, a long-time former editor of Murdoch’s Sun newspaper, said the press did not need further regulation and said the “ludicrous” inquiry was a mere smokescreen to hide Cameron’s embarrassment over his failings.
“This is the way in which our prime minister is hopeful he can escape his own personal lack of judgement,” he said in a typically aggressive speech, while relaying how Cameron’s politicians used to line up to “kiss the rear end” of Murdoch.

He said politicians should accept the scandal was simply a moment “when low-grade criminality took over a newspaper,” and not an indication of a need for widespread change.

MacKenzie said former Labour Prime Minister Gordon Brown had once threatened to “destroy” Murdoch and his News Corp company after the Sun called for its readers to back Cameron over Brown in the 2010 election.

Dacre said he condemned the hacking but thought the politicians were now going too far in their reaction.
“Let’s keep it in proportion,” he said. “Britain’s cities weren’t looted as a result. No one died. The banks didn’t collapse because of the News of the World.”

Parliament’s response to the scandal, Dacre said, was “a judicial inquiry with greater powers than those possessed by the public inquiry into the Iraq war” with a panel of experts “who have not the faintest clue on how mass-selling newspapers operate.”

THE ‘LIBERAL’ PROBLEM

Dacre’s anger was directed across the board, at the police, judges, the Prime Minister and also the Guardian which led much of the coverage that eventually brought down the News of the World.

Dacre questioned whether “liberals” should be allowed to decide what a working class man or woman reads.
“The problem is that Britain’s liberal class, the people that know best and really run this country, by and large hate all popular press,” he said.
“The Hampstead liberal with his gilded lifestyle understandably enjoys the Guardian. But does he have any right to deny someone who works 10 hours a day … and lives for football, the right to buy a paper that reveals the sexual peccadilloes of one of his team’s millionaire married players?”

Dacre, who wields huge political influence through a newspaper that often claims to lead the charge against moral decay, also suggested that the more scandalous elements of newspapers were required to draw readers in, allowing the press to then fund coverage of more serious matters such as politics.

Like MacKenzie, Dacre said the current system of self regulation led by the Press Complaints Commission (PCC) was adequate but he said it could be beefed up with the appointment of an ombudsman with the power to impose fines.

Another speaker to support the press was Mary-Ellen Field, an Australian hacking victim who lost her job working for the model Elle Macpherson, because Macpherson thought Field had leaked private information to the press.
“I don’t want the press muzzled,” she said. “I want to see you doing your job and that’s to be vigilant and to protect democracy. I was not a victim of the freedom of the press … or self regulation. I was a victim of criminal behaviour.”