By Dinouk Colombage
Britain continues to be engulfed by the News of the World saga, as the controversy carries over in to its third week.
Headlines have been dominated by arrests, resignations, deaths, inquiries and further accusations.
Rupert and James Murdoch, father and son, agreed on Friday to appear before a Parliament tribunal to answer allegations that they were aware of the phone hacking that went on in the newspaper. Both men are American citizens, and as such were not required to answer the summons. However, in what many have dubbed as a show of good faith they both turned up allowing British Members of Parliament to question them for hours on their relationship with News of the World and its staff. Despite both Murdoch’s vouching for their media empire, James denied any knowledge of the phone hacking scandal.
Their denials have been stonewalled as former News of the World editor, Colin Myler and ex legal manager, Tom Crone, both claimed that they had informed Rupert Murdoch about an email which suggested the practice of phone hacking ‘went further than a rogue journalist’. Murdoch later said that he stands by his former testimony. To add insult to injury the Murdochs’ inquiry was halted for fifteen minutes as a protester was escorted away after having thrown a ‘shaving foam pie’ at Rupert Murdoch. This act is highly significant, as it illustrates how far Murdoch’s public image has fallen in the face of the public. A man neither liked nor disliked, Rupert Murdoch built an empire and an image which was to be feared and respected. This picture is waning with more and more people inside and outside of the media world taking swipes at the Murdoch family and its unethical practices.
During his inquiry Murdoch revealed how Number 10 Downing Street had authorised him to enter from the back door when visiting both David Cameron and Gordon Brown.
The Labour party suffered further setbacks when it was announced in Parliament on Thursday that neither Tony Blair nor Gordon Brown had disclosed their contacts with Rupert Murdoch. These revelations came following David Cameron’s decision to reveal to Parliament the dates of each occasion that he met with Rupert Murdoch.
Cameron’s association with the Murdoch Empire came under further scrutiny following the allegations levelled against his former communications chief, Andy Coulson. The former News of the World Editor announced that despite not having any knowledge of the phone hacking he was taking full responsibility. Cameron, who is still to apologise for having hired Coulson, admitted that with the benefit of hindsight he would not have taken up the former editor’s services.
Former chief executive of News International, Rebekah Brooks, has denied any knowledge of any phone hacking during her time as editor of the paper. A claim many have ridiculed questioning how ‘a news editor is unaware of her own stories’. Brooks, who was arrested and questioned for several hours last week, was released on bail by police following her lawyer’s intervention. The former editor told MPs at her inquiry that the payments made to private investigators was the responsibility of the managing editor. Despite admitting to having hired private investigators during her tenure, Brooks denied having them hack in to people’s phones.
The week started off with the startling news that former News of the World journalist, and phone-hacking whistle blower, Sean Hoare was found dead in his apartment. Hoare had reportedly told media that the phone hacking scandal had gone further than what had originally been anticipated. Police have written his death off as being ‘unexplained but not suspicious’.
If political implications and an unexplained death were not enough the News of the World sage finally took its toll on the police force as Metropolitan Police Commissioner, Sir Paul Stephenson, resigned in light of the scandal. Stephenson told MPs at his inquiry of his failure to notify senior officials of Scotland Yard’s decision to hire a former News of the World deputy editor Neil Wallis, who was arrested last week in relation to the phone hacking scandal. Stephenson insisted that his resignation was sparked by the hope that the controversy will not distract the Metropolitan police from ‘the challenges it faces, including the 2012 London Olympics’.