Phone hacking scandal in Great Britain

Magdalena Kowalewska

The phone hacking scandal connected with the British tabloid newspaper the ‘News of the World’ shocked the whole Great Britain. The illegal journalists’ hacking into the voicemail inboxes of celebrities and politicians as well as the families of the soldiers killed in Afghanistan and Iraq or the parents of the murdered 13-year old girl was an unprecedented scandal in the history of world media. The affair connected with the London police was also revealed. Their officials worked for the tabloid newspaper, giving it secret information.

Against journalists’ ethics

The outrageous and inhuman activities used by the journalists of the biggest Australian press owner Rupert Murdoch were revealed at last and echoed in the whole world. The effect of the activities of the journalists who wanted to gain ‘hot topics’ at all costs, ignoring the journalists’ ethics and the right to privacy, was the closure of the most popular English-speaking tabloid newspaper the News of the World, with the circulation of almost three million copies.
In the pursuit of sensational news the journalists supported by paid hackers and detectives accessed the phones of several thousand people for ten years. These phones belonged to celebrities, politicians and the royal family. The list also includes the relatives of those who were killed in war, the victims of the terrorist attack in the London underground on 7 July 2005 as well as the parents of the murdered teenager Milly Dowler. The Guardian revealed that the hackers from the News of the World broke all security devices in 2002 and hacked the voicemail inbox of the 13-year old girl. They did not only hamper the investigation by deleting the messages but also gave hope to Milly’s parents that their daughter was still alive. The tabloid newspaper did its best to gain secret and sensational news. It even resorted to corruption. It turned out that policemen worked for the tabloid. They gave it secret information. The policemen were also slow to investigate the phone hacking scandal. Consequently, the most senior British police officer Paul Stephenson, the head of Scotland Yard, and his deputy John Yates resigned just after Rebekah Brooks, the editor-in-chief of Murdoch’s tabloids the News of the World and The Sun, had been arrested. Rebekah Brooks was also the chief executive of News International. It was the press part of Rumpert Murdoch’s media conglomerate. Rebekah Brooks is co-responsible for the scandal. It was during her term that the hackers accessed the voicemail inbox of the murdered 13-year-old girl.

The fall of media and politics

The News of the World owned by Rupert Murdoch, who also owns the huge News Corp., existing for 168 years in the press market and beating records of popularity, was closed at once and without any hesitation. On 10 July 2011, the last-ever edition of the tabloid, without any advertisements, was published. It had the big headline ‘We thank you & goodbye.’ Over 200 journalists lost jobs. In his special statement for the press Murdoch said, ‘We are sorry for the serious wrongdoing that occurred. We are deeply sorry for the hurt suffered by the individuals affected.’ His son James Murdoch announced to pay millions of pounds in damages to the victims of the phone hacking scandal. But is it enough to pay compensation for moral losses suffered by the hackers’ victims for so many years? The word ‘sorry’ cannot replace the infringed right to privacy of the victims of accidents or murdered children. Today the Parliament and the British citizens demand punishment for concrete people who were responsible for the heartless practices to gain information. In one moment the empire of Murdoch was hated by the British society. We can speak about a clear decrease in confidence in journalists as well as politicians and democracy. The country in which the media have always been models of objectivism and honesty is experiencing a serious crisis now. And it is not only a fall of the media but also a fall of politics.
Prime Minister David Cameron was also driven into a corner and had to explain his familiar contacts with the board of News International: Rebekah Brooks and James Murdoch. The outbreak of the phone hacking scandal coincided with the takeover of BSkyB by Rupert Murdoch’s concern. At first, Vince Cable, Minister for Business, was to rule on Murdoch’s bid to take control of BSkyB. But Prime Minister David Cameron asked Jeremy Hunt, Minister of Culture, Media and Sport, to deal with it. But the main accusation against the British Prime Minister was the fact that he had employed the former editor of the News of the World Andy Coulson, first as a spin doctor and then a communications director. He was arrested as the effect of the outbreak of the phone hacking scandal. During his speech in the Parliament David Cameron refuted the accusations. He assured the MPs that if he had known about Coulson what he knew at present he would not have hired him. He also stated that his former communications director was innocent until heard the charges.

Rupert Murdoch testifies

How does the strategic player, 80-year-old Rupert Murdoch, who can care perfectly well for good relationships and favours of successive prime ministers and can enter Downing Street by back doors, react to the phone hacking scandal? The owner of the gigantic media conglomerate tried to convince the interrogators that he knew nothing about phone hacking practiced by his employees and rejected ‘ultimate responsibility’ for the scandal. Therefore, if Rupert Murdoch is not responsible for the activities of his journalists who stands behind the interception of communications of thousands of people? Murdoch tries to convince public opinion that he had not known anything about those activities. However, neither the British society nor the European society should be misled by his words. The phone hacking activities of the journalists of the News of the World continued for several years. It is hard to imagine that the head of the second-largest media empire in the world did not realise how his employees gained the most drastic and humiliating information.

The tip of the iceberg

Prime Minister David Cameron has announced to look closer at the functioning of the media. He speculates that other press titles can be suspected of similar hacking activities used by the News of the World. It seems that the scandal of the British tabloid newspaper is only the tip of the iceberg. The media are not the fourth power but the first one and politicians and the state submit themselves to them without any hesitations. The question arises – do such mechanisms of interaction between the media and politics in the pursuit of news and mutual interests take place in Poland or another European country? The case of the News of the World is a warning to tabloid newspapers and all journalists who want to get information at all costs, forgetting the ethical code they are obliged to follow.

"Niedziela" 31/2011

Editor: Tygodnik Katolicki "Niedziela", ul. 3 Maja 12, 42-200 Czestochowa, Polska
Editor-in-chief: Fr Jaroslaw Grabowski • E-mail: