JK Rowling Testifies: Press Put Letter In Her Daughter’s Schoolbag

Phone hacking on an “industrial strength” level was a widespread practice at Rupert Murdoch’s now-defunct News of the World tabloid: since July, more and more evidence supporting such allegations has come to light; over 5,000 people are alleged to have had their phones hacked. Just on Thursday, London police made their first arrest on charges of computer hacking by private investigators working for News International.

Prime Minister David Cameron set up the Leveson inquiry into media ethics last summer to investigate press standards. Starting this Monday, those who are alleged victims of phone hacking or had their privacy intruded on by the media organization gave testimony at the High Court in London. Bob and Sally Dowler, the parents of murdered schoolgirl Milly Dowler, gave their testimony on Monday and Kate and Gerry McCann, whose three-year-old daughter Madeleine has been missing since 2007 while vacationing in Portugal, spoke before the panel on Wednesday. These parents had been thrown into the public limelight by unspeakable tragedy, only to see the NoW capitalize on the horror they found themselves in.

Three of those who testified Thursday — actress Sienna Miller, former Formula One chief Max Mosley, author JK Rowling — are famous and wealthy, and have made the decision to “stand up to a powerful press because they believed their right to privacy had been violated.”

Miller described being verbally abused and spat upon by the paparazzi; of being chased by ten men with cameras down the street at midnight; of accusing her family and friends of leaking stories to the press that, she later learned, had been acquired by hacking her phone.

Mosley won £60,000 in damages from the NoW in 2008 after a judge ruled that the paper’s story about him participating in a “sick Nazi orgy” had trespassed on his right to privacy. Mosley — the son of Sir Oswald Mosley, the founder of the British Union of Fascists — has since campaigned actively to reform laws about celebrity privacy. He spoke about feeling that News International was out to “destroy” him after he sued NoW for breach of privacy; he has called for the press to notify public figures before publishing articles about them. He also spoke about his son, Alexander Mosley, who, having suffered from depression and drug addiction, was devastated by the NoW story and died after its publication. Mosley is currently taking legal action against Google to remove libelous Nazi references to him from the Internet in 22 countries.

Rowling’s testimony made all too clear how not only her privacy but that of her children and husband have been aggressively violated. When the publicity about Harry Potter had just begun, Rowling found a letter to her from the press inside her daughter’s schoolbag and felt a “sense of invasion”:

Later Rowling recalled how a journalist from the Scottish Sun had contacted the headmaster of her daughter’s school, claiming that there had been complaints about her daughter from other pupils and parents.

“My daughter was being accused of some kind of bullying,” she said. “There was not one word of truth in it … To approach my daughter’s school was outrageous.”

Rowling described going to a beach she thought was private, only to find that photos of her daughter in a swimsuit had been taken, in violation of the Press Complaints Commission’s dictum that photographers cannot take pictures of children without their parents’ permission. Even after a ruling and an apology, Rowling found that the photo was still being spread around the internet. She herself has only worn a swimsuit on the beach twice since 1998; she was photographed both times.

In 2008, Rowling literally ran with her children (one in a carriage) away from photographers besieging her house.  As speculation about the fate of Harry Potter in the last book peaked, Rowling discovered that her daughter was being told that the press had learned that Harry Potter was going to die; Rowling said that

“If the press wanted to know they should have asked her; papers knew there wouldn’t be an answer but tried to entrap her child to do so instead.”

She emphasized that, no matter how famous parents are, children’s privacy must be protected as “where children are concerned the issue is fairly black and white.”

Rowling said that she had employed no fewer than 50 lawyers to deal with the press.  Without extensive financial resources, taking on Rupert Murdoch’s media empire — taking on the press — is simply impossible.

But while the press seem to hold all the cards, the public’s appetite for every last detail about public figures’ lives is seemingly bottomless. In our internet age when information not only spreads like wildfire but has a lengthy — an endless — afterlife, the argument for stronger privacy laws seems more compelling than ever.

Related Care2 Coverage

James Murdoch Resigns From Boards of The Sun and The Times

Parents of Milly Dowler Give Devastating Testimony

James Murdoch: Incompetent or Deceitful?


Photo by David Ogren

Love This? Never Miss Another Story.


Camila K.
Kamila A.3 years ago

It is astonishing that the truth is finally out and Murdoch is seen for the evil that he represents---how will he answer to all he has done?

peggy p.
peggy p.3 years ago

press people should have to live by the same rules the rest of us do...wonder what's going on if i look inside their home windows?

Diana P.
Diana P.3 years ago

The media is the cause for a lot of problems.

Charlene Rush
Charlene Rush3 years ago

The Press is so controversial.
Sometimes, we thank god that they exist; other times, we hate the ground they walk on.
When they are on the side of evil, they must be called out.

Julimar C.
Julimar C.4 years ago

Just because these people are famous, doesn't mean they don't have a right to their privacy. It is all made worse by the sick obsession many people have on keeping tabs on celebrities. I've never understood what is it that people find interesting in those gossip magazines, on looking at pictures of their famous actors at the beach or eating ice cream. Seriously. They are people just like you and me. What's the big deal? This is just sad.

shannon b.
S B.4 years ago

"But while the press seem to hold all the cards, the public’s appetite for every last detail about public figures’ lives is seemingly bottomless."

Is this really true? Or is it a case media causing the sensation so it can topple its victims? I personally don't know anyone who reads that tripe. Of course i find the expletive pre-fab world of "reality" TV boring, too, and often wonder if we watch them because we "like" them, or is it because they are cheap & easy to produce and saturate the networks, who know we'll watch anything, even if it's just the lesser of two evils?

Karen A.
Karen azimi4 years ago

It is sad to see what these GREEDY BASTARDS are doing in the name of "News"

Chad A.
Chad Anderson4 years ago

The increasing connection between journalistic outlets and large corporate owners that demand unreasonable profits and "cross-fertilization" with other properties shows that the current model of journalism is not able to meet the challenges of informing the public for making the critical decisions regarding the major issues like inequality, climate change, war, terrorism, et al, that we face.

TERRY R.4 years ago


Eddie Obler
Eddie O.4 years ago

Monica is so right in that it does have to start with each of us. As Gandhi said, "become the change we desire". That being said, I absolutely never buy any of the gossip rags, and I have never bought Exxon gas since their massive blunder in Alaska, and their blatant efforts to buy their way out of ever truly cleaning up after their massive pollution event.

Nor, do I ever plan to buy BP oil as they proved their greed prevented them from truly taking adequate safety precautions, or being concerned about the environment they massively polluted.

There needs to be consequences when big companies do things that are illegal, immoral, devestating to our environment, etc... just as their are consequences when the little guy steals a loaf of bread, and the consequences need to be fair and just, across the board, not giving white collar crime just a slap on the wrist, compared to jail time for the little guys doing petty theft.