The Digger And The Hackers
Mark Seddon is the former United Nations Correspondent and New York Bureau Chief for Al-Jazeera English TV. He reported from eighteen countries during that time, including North Korea, China, Haiti, Syria, Libya, Yemen, Ethiopia and the Democratic Republic of Congo. He has interviewed, amongst others, Ban Ki-Moon, Lech Walesa, Tony Blair, Hans Blix, Michael Foot, Mia Farrow, and George Clooney. In a journalistic career spanning over twenty years, he has been Editor of Tribune and an elected member of the UK Labour Party's National Executive Committee. He has written for most British newspapers and many magazines, including The Guardian, The Independent, The Daily Mail, The Times, The Spectator, New Statesman, Private Eye, British Journalism Review and Country Life Magazine. For a number of years he was a Diarist at the London Evening Standard, and has also reported for, amongst others, the BBC and Sky TV. He lives in Buckingham, England.
Rupert Murdoch is on his way to the annual shindig of global movers and shakers at Davos. Quite what is moved and shaken at Davos is frankly anyone’s guess. But Mr Murdoch will be dropping in to London on his way over and he is not a happy man. Correction; he is hopping mad. Usually he would expect to drop into 10 Downing Street, where the Prime Minister would be obliged to pay homage. I was in Downing Street many years ago, and saw Murdoch walking arm in arm down the corridor with Angie Hunter, a close aide to Tony Blair. On seeing this, I was sworn to secrecy, as ‘Tony’ wouldn't want people to know that Murdoch was a regular. I maintained radio silence for approximately seven hours, which was pretty good going.
For nearly two decades the News Corporation Empire has had British Prime Ministers at its beck and call. Tony Blair famously flew half way around the World with his then press secretary, Alastair Campbell, to attend the court of Murdoch, still known in some quarters here as the ‘Dirty Digger’. There they agreed to abandon Labour’s longstanding policy of restricting cross media ownership, in return for Murdoch’s Labour baiting tabloid, the Sun, supporting the party in the 1997 General Election. Alastair Campbell was proud of this Faustian pact at the time, and when I rang up the then editor of The Sun, Stuart Higgins, known as the "human sponge" to ask if it were true that his paper would be supporting Labour he said “No!” Just hours later, the presses rolled, and lo and behold, The Sun came out for Tony Blair.
More recently Prime Minister David Cameron has continued with the ritual courting of Murdoch and his editors, notably Rebekah Brooks, nee Wade, who apparently lives quite near him in the Cotswolds and broke bread with him over Christmas.
Mr Murdoch owns The Sun, News of the World, the Times and Sunday Times as well as Sky TV. Now he wants complete ownership of BSkyB, and is awaiting the deliberations of the Government and the regulatory authorities, who were thought to be about to cave in to Murdoch in time honoured fashion. Culture Secretary, Jeremy Hunt, now terrified of being seen to cave into Murdoch is in the process of punting the decision out into the long grass. Murdoch would also like the Government to drop regulations governing impartiality, so that he can set up a UK version of Fox TV. Presumably with an array of Glenn Beck style “attack hacks”, whose mission will be to lower the bar even further than it is now.
This is one reason that Murdoch is hopping mad. The other is that Andy Coulson, the former Editor of the News of the World, who subsequently went on to work as Prime Minister David Cameron’s Chief Press Secretary, has been forced to resign over phone hacking allegations. His resignation was a long time coming, an acknowledgement that News Corporation’s claims that phone hacking was essentially a rogue operation by one journalist, were pure bunkum. News Corporation, as we I write are engaged in extremely expensive attempts to pay off a number of those whose phones were hacked into, including publicist Max Clifford, whose silence has allegedly been bought for a £1 million. The actress Sienna Miller is demanding to know why her phone was hacked into as is the former Deputy Prime Minister, John Prescott. Former Prime Minister, Gordon Brown now wants to know whether News of the World journalists was hacking into his phone.
Some years ago, Britain’s security services were accused of “lying and burgling their way across London”, an activity it would appear which has been aped by some of Mr Murdoch’s newspapers – although their journos didn’t actually have to physically walk off with the cell phones.
But there may be another reason Mr Murdoch is hopping mad. Not only has the story not been contained, not enough people ‘compensated’ for illegal phone hacks and Andy Coulson been forced to resign as Cameron’s spin doctor, the indelicate conspiracy of silence that has seen most other newspapers clam up on the story, has failed to contain it either.
And Mr Murdoch must be hopping mad that despite the fact that his titles were not the only ones hacking their way across celebrity land, others were too – and no one seems to be pointing a finger at them.
A case in point is surely the Daily Mirror, main rival to The Sun and formerly presided over by Editor Piers Morgan, who has recently de-camped to the States to resume his career interviewing celebrities for CNN. The Daily Mirror was according to many insiders, just as guilty as the News of the World in hacking into phones, possibly even more so. So perhaps Piers Morgan would like to tell us what he knows, or better still tell it to the House of Commons Select Committee on media and broadcasting? I hope that an ‘invitation’ to attend the committee's next deliberations is even now winging its way across the Atlantic.
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