Rupert Murdoch, the owner of the News Corporation, is facing fire from British politicians over a voicemail hacking scandal that just keeps getting bigger and bigger. First, Prime Minister David Cameron and Labour leader Ed Milibrand expressed their outrage with one of the News Corporation’s tabloid newspapers, News of the World, which was accused of hiring a private investigator to hack into the voicemail of a missing 13-year-old girl. The investigator then deleted voicemails to make room for new ones, giving the girl’s family false hope and confusing the police.
Now, the tabloid is being accused of hacking the phones of people whose family members died in the July 7, 2005 London Underground bombing. New allegations also claim that the paper hacked into the voicemails of bereaved relatives who had recently been informed that their loved ones died in Iraq or Afghanistan.
In breaking news, James Murdoch announced that this Sunday’s issue of News of the World will be its last. This isn’t surprising; the newspaper violated journalistic ethics in such an absurdly dramatic way that it hardly seems that the News Corporation could continue to defend it. But even after the tabloid is gone, the ripples of this scandal may continue to plague Murdoch, whose current plans to take over the pay-television company British Sky Broadcasting may be in jeopardy. Murdoch owns four leading British newspapers, in addition to international media outlets.
Zac Goldsmith, a Conservative legislator, said that Murdoch was guilty of “systemic abuse of almost unprecedented power.” He added, “There is nothing noble in what these newspapers have been doing,” he said. “Rupert Murdoch is clearly a very, very talented businessman — he’s possibly even a genius — but his organization has grown too powerful and has abused that power. It has systematically corrupted the police and in my view has gelded this Parliament, to our shame.”
For many, this is a sign that British tabloid culture has gotten out of control. Rebekah Brooks, now a top executive at News Corporation, is at the center of the controversy, because of her role as editor of News of the World during the search for Milly Dowler. Brooks is a close friend of both Rupert Murdoch and Prime Minister David Cameron, and said she knew nothing about the Dowler hacking. Her meteoric rise to the top of the tabloid ladder was marked by what the New York Times calls her “creative flair in getting articles and her lack of compunction in how she got them.” At one point, she admitted to a House of Commons select committee that her current newspaper, The Sun, had paid the police for information, remarks which she later said were misunderstood.
The saddest part of this whole scandal, however, is the fact that the disappearance of a schoolgirl and the grief of families whose loved ones had just died in war or in a terrorist attack, were seen as tabloid stories. This staggering invasion into ordinary people’s tragedies, conducted until now with impunity, shows that tabloid culture has gotten completely out of hand. Let’s hope that the British Parliament is successful in its attempts to bring newspapers like News of the World to task – and that Rupert Murdoch doesn’t escape by cutting his losses with one tabloid.
Photo from World Economic Forum via flickr