THE salient facts are these: On Monday 4th July, the Guardian revealed that, in 2002, the journalists at the New of the World, under the editorship of Rebekah Brooks, hacked into the voicemail of murdered teenager Milly Dowler. At the time of the hacking, Milly Dowler was missing, and in the then-paper’s quest to produce revelatory stories, they began listening to and subsequently deleting messages so that more messages would filter through, thus producing more stories. As if this act wasn’t disgusting in itself, the missing messages understandably gave Milly’s family hope that she was still alive.
Over the next week, it came to light that Milly’s voicemails were just the tip of the iceberg. In jailed private investigator Glenn Mulcaire’s notebook, a further 4000 names were found, predicted to be potential victims of hacking. These included the parents of Holly Wells and Jessica Chapman, murdered in 2001, along with the families of soldiers killed at war and victims of the 7/7 bombings in London.
As a result of these abhorrent claims, advertisers began to pull out from the News of the World; an unforgivably tarnished brand now associated with criminality, immorality and disturbing insensitivity. The newspaper, part of News International, owned by media baron Rupert Murdoch, was quickly axed, and in a matter of minutes, 200 innocent journalists found themselves unemployed because of the repercussions of despicable acts committed years before: they were guilty by association.
But what made it possible for Murdoch to see this situation as being resolvable by the culling of an entire newspaper? How is it conceivable that law-abiding journalists should pay the price for the erstwhile work of a newsdesk from a different generation?
Something had to give, and publicly so. The obvious target for culpability was Mrs Brooks, the ex-editor who currently occupies the role of Chief Executive at News International. It appeared that she, the remnant of the criminal regime which once permeated the News of the World, was responsible for authorising the hackers to do their dirty work. However, Brooks remained in her position whilst the current staff of the newspaper were told to pack their bags.
Whilst the Murdochs must ultimately take responsibility for the News of the World’s closure, it must be accepted that the Guardian’s approach to publishing these exclusives allowed the paper’s brand, and not the guilty individuals, to face the chop. By pursuing the newspaper, the small number of executives and journalists to blame for the scandalous hackings were allowed to walk free, whilst the public face of the press crisis, as constructed by the Guardian, took the hit.
This was a week ago, when I began to write this piece. Now, I sit typing wondering whether what I write will be outdated tomorrow, as this extraordinary story continues to unfold at pace. Five minutes ago, Rebekah Brooks was arrested and now questions are being asked as to whether or not the News of the World need ever have left our newsstands at all. Possibly not, now that the true faces of the whole debacle are in custody. It would appear that Rupert Murdoch thought that sacrificing the paper would save Brooks, his protégée and priority. Not so. It now remains to be seen how long Murdoch and his son and employee, James, evade the clutches of justice.