Friday, July 15, 2011

phone hacking and spinning the police

The phone hacking scandal has been amazing. One day there's a move to refer the takeover of BskyB to the Competition Commission that looks like an attempt to sweep it under the carpet till the fuss dies down, the next day the entire bid collapses.

This story is moving so fast - and every move making it worse for Murdoch and News Corp - that The Guardian have a live updates page, they way they do when they're reporting a trial or inquest.

Interestingly, the American end of this may still be barely beginning. If there is proof that News International paid police for information then it is against US law - as an American corporation it is bound by legislation not to bribe officials of any state. And if there is any proof of attempt to hack 9/11 victims and their families, it's game over for Murdoch.

Top marks to Billy Bragg for already releasing a song about it (free download here), with a major nod to the Scouse boycott of the Sun ever since their foul lies about the Hillsborough disaster.

Reflecting on it all, it strikes me that there are several parallels with the Mark Kennedy affair. A scandal was passed off as the act of one bad apple, a rogue that the bosses didn't know about. Then it becomes clear that it was endemic, a policy run from the top. Then beyond that, it becomes apparent that it was the product of the shared political values of the police and the organisations they work with.

The police kept quiet and covered their arses for as long as possible, then when that became untenable they leaked the Crown Prosecution Service's guilt in the Kennedy affair; similarly with the phone hacking they did a lalala fingers in the ears inquiry but now it's blown up they're busy telling us how evil News International have been all along.

There is a major difference though. The guilt in the Kennedy affair lies primarily with the police, whereas in the phone hacking it lies with News International. However, the police were the source of much of the initial seeds of information that led to stories. It appears around £100,000 was paid to officers, a few hundred quid at a time. News International should go down for that, but so should the officers.

If the journalist who wrote the stories on Jennifer Elliott - daughter of Denholm, found begging on the streets with drug problems and being an occasional sex worker - can tell Radio 4 that he feels his work contributed to her eventual suicide, then that culpability is shared by the police officer whose tip off instigated the story in return for a slender envelope of cash.

The family of Jean Charles de Menezes have written to the government urging them to ensure the inquiry into hacking covers the police's involvement. The fact that their phone numbers were on the hack list points the finger squarely at the police.

Given the baseless personal slurs about de Menezes that came out in the tabloids, the relationship was more than bent constables taking a bung from a low-level journo hacking to try to get a story. It is the kind of thing that comes from media management strategy at a high level.

It is certainly a scandal that a senior News of The World executive was working for the Metropolitan Police at the time when the Met were investigating the hacking. But what really caught my eye in the story was that the guy's police job existed at all.

Neil Wallis, the former deputy editor of the tabloid, was paid more than £1,000 a day to work two days a month at Scotland Yard as a consultant to Sir Paul Stephenson, the Metropolitan Police commissioner.

You fucking what? £24,000+ of public money for a total of two weeks spin doctoring?

And Wallis' pay isn't the half of it.

Neil Wallis, who was questioned for several hours on Thursday, was employed as recently as last year as sick leave cover for the force's deputy director of public affairs

Presumably the actual Director of Public Affairs gets even more than the deputy.

Yet there are still people who say that the police do a good honest job with the resources they've got, people who deny the police are a political force who manipulate the media.

Like the Conservative Party leadership, the police are desperately wriggling at the moment, trying to hold News International at arms length. Yet it is plain that all of them share information, personnel and tactics, because they have shared values and a shared mission.

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