News Corp. Phone Hacking Scandal Reaches a New Outrage Level

Rupert Murdoch's plan to takeover BSkyB may be imperiled by the new revelation

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The phone-hacking scandal involving reporters at News Corp.'s British tabloid News of the World has been percolating for nearly two years, but yesterday's revelation that the tabloid attempted to access the voicemail of teenage murder victim Milly Dowler--in the process "interfering with police inquiries" into the case--has finally elevated the proceedings to the status of national outrage.

From The Guardian, which broke the story yesterday that Dowler and her family had their voicemails "targeted" by the News of the World phone hacking operation in the days following her March 2002 disappearance:

Detectives from Scotland Yard's new inquiry into the phone hacking, Operation Weeting, are believed to have found evidence of the targeting of the Dowlers in a collection of 11,000 pages of notes kept by Glenn Mulcaire, the private investigator jailed for phone hacking on behalf of the News of the World.

In the last four weeks the Met officers have approached Surrey police and taken formal statements from some of those involved in the original inquiry, who were concerned about how News of the World journalists intercepted – and deleted – the voicemail messages of Milly Dowler.

The messages were deleted by journalists in the first few days after Milly's disappearance in order to free up space for more messages. As a result friends and relatives of Milly concluded wrongly that she might still be alive. Police feared evidence may have been destroyed.

Until Monday, the names mentioned in connection with the hacks belonged to athletes, politicians and celebrities. The revelation that the scheme targeted Dowler prompted swift and damning condemnation Wednesday.

  • Prime Minister David Cameron (whose communications director, a former News of the World editor, resigned in January amidst scrutiny over his role in the hacking scheme) called the hack "a truly dreaful act."
  • In the House of Commons, Speaker John Bercow approved the first emergency session since 2008 to address the controversy, an inquiry the Guardian reports will end "with a call by Labour for a public inquiry." The session will take place tomorrow.
  • Labour party leader Ed Miliband called for the resignation of Rebekah Brooks, reports the BBC. Brooks, who now runs News International and is "chief executive of Rupert Murdoch's UK operation," was editor of the tabloid when the hacks took place. In a statement to the News International staff, Brooks called the charges "too horrific to believe" and promised "the strongest possible action will be taken" if the charges turned out to be true.
  • Speaking at a lunch hosted by advertisers, Times of London editor James Harding blasted the hacks "disgusting and indefensible and, for all of us who are journalists, profoundly depressing," according to Media Week. The Times is the News of the World's sister publication. Advertiser Ford announced it was suspending ad buys in the tabloid. "We are awaiting an outcome from the News of the World investigation and expect a speedy and decisive response," the carmaker said in a statement to Reuters. Meanwhile, CNN reported that executives from News International "met with British police Tuesday over the claims."
  • Hacked Off, "a campaign supported by [Hugh] Grant, Lord Prescott, Conservative former Health Secretary Lord Fowler, Labour MP Chris Bryant, Liberal Democrat MP Adrian Sanders and the Dowlers' lawyer, Mark Lewis" launched an online petition for a full public hearing on the Dowler hacks." In an interview with BBC Radio, Grant remarked It's been hard to get people to viscerally feel sickened and outraged and now that people fully realise just how repulsive these people are and the lengths to which they'll go. Hopefully there'll be more momentum in getting something done." The actor was then asked if he thought Brooks should lead the company's internal investigation. His response: "That would be like asking me if I thought Hitler was a good person to clear up the Nazi Party. It's completely absurd."
  • The revelations put Murdoch's takeover of British broadcaster BskyB in jeopardy. The deal was approved last week by British regulator Ofcom, but former deputy prime miniter John Prescott (whose phone was among those hacked) has already written to OfCom asking that the deal, which was expected to take place next week, be blocked over concerns that Murdoch and his board of directors are not "fit and proper people." A source at the agency tells the London Evening Standard there is "a requirement that holders of broadcasting TV licences are fit and proper to do so." This is the first time the merger has been challenged "on public interest grounds," notes The Hollywood Reporter. "If Ofcom does re-examine the deal on fitness grounds," explains the paper, "an entire new front to the inquiry could be opened, with a far less predictable outcome and a new timeline only adding to the price of the deal."
This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.