Murdoch's Watergate?

As each new day brings ever more damaging revelations, the full scale and implications of the phone-hacking scandal that has engulfed Rupert Murdoch's British newspapers are still unfolding. The wreckage is piling up. The News of the World (NoW), where it all started, has been shut down and public and political pressure has forced its former editor Rabekah Brooks, who was also chief executive of Mr. Murdoch's British media group News International (NI), to resign. Mr. Murdoch has abandoned his £8 billion bid for the BSkyB television network that he intensely pursued to complete his media dominance in Britain. The ripples are being felt across the Atlantic: the Federal Bureau of Investigation has opened a preliminary inquiry into allegations that News Corporation journalists sought to gain access to the phone records of 9/11 victims, and U.S. Senators have called for investigations into Mr. Murdoch's business practices. Hundreds of incriminating emails are alleged to have been destroyed by NI executives. Senior Scotland Yard officers have complained that the company attempted to “thwart” and “obstruct” their investigation. But police have not come through smelling good either. The affair has revealed a cosy relationship between the police, politicians, and the Murdoch press. Prime Minister David Cameron, a personal friend of the Murdochs, insisted on appointing a former NoW editor, Andy Coulson, as his communications chief despite being warned about his role in phone hacking. A judicial inquiry into the scandal will look into the relationship between the press, the police, and the politicians. A separate inquiry by the House of Commons media committee will see Rupert and his son James grilled by MPs next week.

Revelations point to a culture of systematic, massive abuse of law and media ethics. Up to 4,000 people may have had their phones hacked. What has caused intense outrage is that families of the victims of the 2005 London bombings and soldiers killed in Iraq and Afghanistan were targeted in a fishing expedition for stories. Even little children were not spared. The nation was scandalised when it emerged that the phone of Milly Dowler, a murdered teenaged schoolgirl, was hacked by a NoW investigator. The claim that the practice was confined to a few rogue reporters is becoming increasingly untenable. Nor was it restricted to NoW. The Sun and The Sunday Times, it has emerged, used indefensible methods to obtain personal information about former Prime Minister Gordon Brown. The past week has dramatically transformed attitudes towards Mr. Murdoch, prompting questions whether it could be the beginning of the end of his British media empire.

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Printable version | Sep 14, 2021 3:56:40 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/opinion/editorial/Murdochs-Watergate/article13745792.ece

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