Thursday, September 02, 2010

Don't read all about it!

Odd thing, that while the media can find pages of space to discuss the fact that an unknown advisor has resigned and a senior minister is not having a gay affair, few can find any space to mention the New York Times and their story about Andy Coulson, who remains the media supremo in Downing Street, but was the editor of the News of the World when various reporters were illegally accessing mobile voicemail for celebrities and those in the public eye. Coulson has always denied knowing anything about it, but the New York Times claims that the paper had
...a frantic, sometimes degrading atmosphere in which some reporters openly pursued hacking or other improper tactics to satisfy demanding editors. Andy
Coulson, the top editor at the time, had imposed a hypercompetitive ethos, even by tabloid standards. One former reporter called it a “do whatever it takes” mentality. The reporter was one of two people who said Coulson was present during discussions about phone hacking. Coulson ultimately resigned but denied any knowledge of hacking...

He has continued to deny that, even to a Commons committee,
“I have never condoned the use of phone hacking, and nor do I have any recollection of incidences where phone hacking took place,”

but the NYT continues
A dozen former reporters said in interviews that hacking was pervasive at News of the World. “Everyone knew,” one longtime reporter said. “The office cat knew.” One former editor said Coulson talked freely with colleagues about the dark arts, including hacking. “I’ve been to dozens if not hundreds of meetings with Andy” when the subject came up, said the former editor, who spoke on condition of anonymity. The editor added that when Coulson would ask where a story came from, editors would reply, “We’ve pulled the phone records” or “I’ve listened to the phone messages.” Sean Hoare, a former reporter and onetime close friend of Coulson’s, also recalled discussing hacking. The two men first worked together at The Sun, where, Hoare said, he played tape recordings of hacked messages for Coulson. At News of the World, Hoare said he continued to inform Coulson of his pursuits. Coulson “actively encouraged me to do it,” Hoare said.

It is frankly unbelievable that Andy Coulson could have been unaware of what was a standard practice in the tabloid business. Tom Watson, a member of the culture, media and sport select committee has called for a judicial enquiry with powers of subpoena to investigate this very murky affair.

Perhaps more disturbing still is the revelation that the police enquiry may have been influenced by a need to keep the News of the World on side
The police sometimes built high-profile cases out of the paper’s exclusives, and News of the World reciprocated with fawning stories of arrests. Within days of the raids, several senior detectives said they began feeling internal pressure. One senior investigator said he was approached by Chris Webb, from the department’s press office, who was “waving his arms up in the air, saying, ‘Wait a minute — let’s talk about this.’ ” The investigator, who has since left Scotland Yard, added that Webb stressed the department’s “long-term relationship with News International.” The investigator recalled becoming furious at the suggestion, responding, “There’s illegality here, and we’ll pursue it like we do any other case.” In a statement, Webb said: ‘‘I cannot recall these events. Police officers make operational decisions, not press officers. That is the policy of the Metropolitan Police Service and the policy that I and all police press officers follow."

Later on
Scotland Yard officials consulted with the Crown Prosecution Service on how broadly to investigate. But the officials didn’t discuss certain evidence with senior prosecutors, including the notes suggesting the involvement of other reporters, according to a senior prosecutor on the case. The prosecutor was stunned to discover later that the police had not shared everything. “I would have said we need to see how far this goes” and “whether we have a serious problem of criminality on this news desk,” said the former prosecutor, who declined to speak on the record.

This story takes the lid off how our free press operates - not in pursuit of criminality or corruption in high places, where some leeway might be allowed, but solely to fill pages with drivel about inconsequential 'celebrities' and the like. We need to know if the police took their foot off the accelerator to appease News International and we also need to know if Andy Coulson, the man who shapes the message for the government, can be trusted in any way at all.

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