When we hear the word “scan­dal” in the same sen­tence as “politi­cians” or “celebri­ties”, we’re used to assum­ing that an elect­ed offi­cial, actor, or sports star has done some­thing wrong and is being sub­ject­ed to a harsh media spotlight.

But over in the Unit­ed King­dom, there’s a widen­ing scan­dal involv­ing politi­cians and celebri­ties in which the wrong­do­ers actu­al­ly belong to the media world.

The scan­dal is known as the News of the World hack­ing affair because it con­cerns that tabloid’s use of pri­vate inves­ti­ga­tors to inter­cept voice­mail mes­sages left for peo­ple the tabloid was inter­est­ed in, includ­ing mem­bers of the roy­al fam­i­ly, politi­cians, celebri­ties, and even a mur­der victim.

The scan­dal first came to light in 2005 when it was dis­cov­ered that a News of the World edi­tor (Clive Good­man) and a pri­vate inves­ti­ga­tor (Glenn Mul­caire) employed by News of the World had gained access to voice­mail sys­tems belong­ing to aides of Prince William, who is sec­ond in line to the throne of the Unit­ed King­dom. Fol­low­ing a police inves­ti­ga­tion (begun after the roy­al house­hold had passed their sus­pi­cions along), Good­man and Mul­caire were jailed. At the same time, the News of the World’s chief edi­tor Andy Coul­son sud­den­ly resigned.

While these events cre­at­ed a stir in the Unit­ed King­dom at the time, they were only the open­ing act. In July 2009, The Guardian alleged that what had been revealed in 2006 and 2007 was only the tip of the ice­berg, and that evi­dence held by the Met­ro­pol­i­tan Police proved that there were more victims:

Accord­ing to one source with direct knowl­edge of the Scot­land Yard evi­dence, News of the World jour­nal­ists were sys­tem­at­i­cal­ly using pri­vate inves­ti­ga­tors who would break the law to obtain infor­ma­tion, hack­ing into thou­sands of mobile phones and sup­ply­ing raw mate­r­i­al which was then con­vert­ed into sto­ries that made no ref­er­ence to their real source.

The Guardian con­tin­ued to uncov­er more and more sor­did details about the hack­ing affair and the bun­gled police inves­ti­ga­tion that fol­lowed it as 2009 and 2010 wore on. As these sto­ries were being pub­lished, a round of law­suits were filed against News of the World by lawyers rep­re­sent­ing many of the vic­tims. Just last April, News Cor­po­ra­tion decid­ed to cut its loss­es and set­tle with eight of the vic­tims (who appar­ent­ly had the most promis­ing cas­es). The set­tle­ments includ­ed an admis­sion of lia­bil­i­ty, an apol­o­gy, and finan­cial compensation.

How­ev­er, those set­tle­ments have not made the phone hack­ing scan­dal go away.

On Mon­day, The Guardian report­ed that the police had uncov­ered evi­dence that Mul­caire (the afore­men­tioned pri­vate inves­ti­ga­tor employed by News of the World and jailed in 2006) had in 2002 hacked into the voice­mail box of a miss­ing school­girl, lis­tened to mes­sages left by her fam­i­ly, and even delet­ed some of those mes­sages, lead­ing the fam­i­ly to believe she might be alive.

The  school­girl, Mil­ly Dowler, is well known to the British pub­lic because her dis­ap­pear­ance near­ly a decade ago was wide­ly report­ed upon.

(Some months after she went miss­ing, her body was found; ser­i­al killer Levi Bell­field was con­vict­ed of her mur­der just last month).

This lat­est rev­e­la­tion has sparked a mas­sive uproar in the Unit­ed King­dom. Furi­ous mem­bers of Par­lia­ment from each of the UK’s major polit­i­cal par­ties are demand­ing a renewed inves­ti­ga­tion, prefer­ably one led by a judge (a posi­tion artic­u­lat­ed by many Lib­er­al Demo­c­ra­t­ic MPs). A num­ber of com­pa­nies have stopped adver­tis­ing in the News of the World, includ­ing Ford, Mit­subishi, Renault, Lloyds Bank­ing Group and Vir­gin Hol­i­days. Oth­er adver­tis­ers are review­ing their options and may fol­low suit.

Addi­tion­al­ly, the attor­ney rep­re­sent­ing the Dowlers has said the fam­i­ly is like­ly to take legal action against News of the World and News Inter­na­tion­al. (Inci­den­tal­ly, News Inter­na­tion­al is cur­rent­ly head­ed by one Rebekah Brooks, who — sur­prise, sur­prise! — was edi­tor of the News of the World dur­ing the time that this hack­ing took place.)

Appro­pri­ate­ly, the scan­dal now appears to be tak­ing a finan­cial toll on News Cor­po­ra­tion itself.  Its stock fell 3.6% dur­ing after­noon trad­ing today (to $17.47) as mar­kets post­ed light gains overall.

Iron­i­cal­ly, Rupert Mur­doch him­self is prob­a­bly to blame for the extent of this scan­dal. The rea­son that new and dam­ag­ing rev­e­la­tions keep com­ing to light is because News Cor­po­ra­tion tried to escape account­abil­i­ty and cov­er up what its sleazy Sun­day tabloid had done. For instance, News Inter­na­tion­al is alleged to have made improp­er pay­ments to the police, appar­ent­ly to ensure that the pub­lic would not know what its “jour­nal­ists” had done.

Mur­doch owns so much of the media in Britain that he has effec­tive­ly intim­i­dat­ed the police and the polit­i­cal estab­lish­ment from prop­er­ly inves­ti­gat­ing what happened.

But he and his sub­or­di­nates’ attempts at sup­pres­sion have failed.

The truth is, at last, get­ting out.

It would be fit­ting if the even­tu­al result of this scan­dal was a dimin­ish­ing of Rupert Mur­doch’s pow­er — both in the Unit­ed King­dom and else­where. In our view, Mur­doch and many of his prop­er­ties are tox­ic influ­ences on the com­mu­ni­ties and coun­tries were they exist. News of the World and Fox Noise Chan­nel are mere­ly the most obvi­ous and care­less bad oper­a­tors that Mur­doch owns.

News Cor­po­ra­tion is now scram­bling to try and lim­it the fall­out from affect­ing its pro­posed acqui­si­tion of British broad­cast­er BSkyB. Crit­ics of Mur­doch in Britain fierce­ly oppose the deal because it would fur­ther con­sol­i­date Mur­doch’s pow­er. How­ev­er, David Cameron’s gov­ern­ment is expect­ed to even­tu­al­ly sign off on it.

We hope the peo­ple in charge of grant­i­ng or refus­ing reg­u­la­to­ry approval come to their sens­es and real­ize that con­cen­trat­ed media own­er­ship is a poi­so­nous thing. Media diver­si­ty is incred­i­bly impor­tant in a democ­ra­cy. When one man owns the news, soci­ety suf­fers. This scan­dal is cer­tain­ly proof of that.

About the author

Andrew Villeneuve is the founder and executive director of the Northwest Progressive Institute, as well as the founder of NPI's sibling, the Northwest Progressive Foundation. He has worked to advance progressive causes for over two decades as a strategist, speaker, author, and organizer. Andrew is also a cybersecurity expert, a veteran facilitator, a delegate to the Washington State Democratic Central Committee, and a member of the Climate Reality Leadership Corps.

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