When the News Becomes the News
There is a gathering storm in Britain with it's myriad of popular tabloids coming under fire in a fast developing scandal being revealed in The Guardian newspaper..
It began in 2003 when the countries all powerful Privacy Commissioner raided the home of a private detective Uncovered in that raid where documents that showed dozens of journalists from various newspapers had commissioned the detective to gather information on numerous public figures from the then Deputy Prime Minister John Prescott, the then Lord Mayor of London Ken Livingstone and the current mayor Boris Johnson , model Elle MacPherson, actor Gwyneth Paltrow, celebrity agent Max Clifford and a host of football and sporting personalities.
But it was the methods used to gather that information that is proving highly controversial-private phone calls were bugged.
Suspicions were first raised by aides to HRH Prince William, heir to the throne. They had become concerned for the Prince's safety after snippets began appearing in newspapers detailing his movements that could have only come from private phone calls. They urged Scotland Yard to investigate.
Fast forward to 2007 and the royal correspondent for the Sunday tabloid News Of The World Clive Goodman and private eye Glen Mulcaire plead guilty in court to a conspiracy to tap private phones. He and Mulcaire receive 4 and 6 months jail. The papers' editor Andy Coulson resigned in disgrace. Coulson is now communications advisor to David Cameron, Conservative Party leader who is tipped to be the next Prime Minister of Britain.
3 sporting figures sued the newspaper when it was revealed their phones had been tapped receiving out of court settlements of up £700,000. Lawyers for these men accessed Scotland Yard police records and uncovered the illegal activity by journalists. Yet no-one apart from Goodman & Mulcaire were ever charged.
Now MPs from all parties are asking serious questions : why were no others charged and were executives of media baron Rupert Murdoch's News Corp, publishers of the News of The World entirely truthful during a parliamentary enquiry probing the bugging scandal, when they denied knowledge of the journalist's illegal actions.
Police at first refused to re-investigate but have now reluctantly announced they will probe the previous investigations to see if others should be charged. A new parliamentary enquiry is to be launched and the office of Director of Public Prosecutions has launched it's own investigation.
And the queue to join a class action by those illegally bugged to sue newspapers could number in the hundreds.
Andrew Neil. publisher of The Spectator , a BBC correspondent and a long time Fleet Street editor has said that although it's common for newspapers to use private investigators this appears to be numerous cases of fishing expeditions that would be highly illegal under strict privacy laws governing private communications which carry penalties of huge fines and up to 2 years imprisonment.
Over the coming months the biggest story in Fleet Street-the collective name given to Britain's newspaper publishing business, could be the very tabloids that make up the core of an already shaky print and publishing industry under pressure from the internet.