Sunday, April 10, 2011


I have only really been able to generate about half of the interest in all the phone-hacking stuff about the 'News Of The World' that I should, probably because I am too cynical to believe that News International's corporate breast-beating in the public square is going to make a blind bit of difference to how it is managed in the long run. At least the breasts being beaten are covered, which, for that organisation, makes a welcome change.

As some on the feral right are prone to say when seeking to justify reductions in the rate of corporation tax, let's be clear about this, it's people who pay tax, not corporations. Oh, for the same thinking to hold true when discussing the commission of crime by those in the employment of corporations! When that happens, it's not people, the entities that guide and direct corporations, that commit crimes, but the corporations themselves. Just as the behaviour of bankers seems have no influence on determining how banks should be regulated, the News International phone-hacking scandal, and the company's admission of liability, shows that the behaviour of proprietors and editors seems to be unmentionable when attempts are made to hold the press accountable for its excesses.

If KwikFlush Plumbers were sued by multiple litigants, all aggrieved by its pursuit of the same business practice, that business practice would very quickly draw it to the attention of the local Trading Standards department. No such mechanism seems to exist for bringing to account a newspaper group which has admitted consistently violating the rights of members of the public.

A full enquiry must be held into this matter, headed at best by a Law Lord, with the power to demand documents and compel the attendance of witnesses, and to direct that they give evidence under oath; its remit must include an open and public investigation of News International's corporate culture. This scandal raises questions such as whether journalists may have been encouraged - or worse, perhaps intimated - by their editors to use information obtained by now admittedly illegal means, a theory which one can develop from the fact that the victims are from different walks of life, and presumably of interest to different journalistic sub-specialities, with the journalists' editors being the only thread binding them together. It raises questions such as whether the editors themselves were under pressure from executives, perhaps even directors, to use 'By any means necessary' methods to obtain stories. The impact of these practices upon the public means that discussion, and investigation, of them is in the public interest. Accordingly, all investigation of them must be public.

It is not enough for News International to perhaps chance its arm, and try to say that this is another mere example of technology having outpaced the law's ability to police it. In the case of all those whose phones were hacked, somebody made a decision to hack them. As News Corporation's shareholders may find to their cost, that technology can develop faster than the law's ability to police it does not mean that the law can be ignored. Those who would weigh compliance with the rule of law against the need for greater circulation and find it wanting should be driven out of the newspaper business for good.

And if nothing else, this whole business shows how the UK's laws on the disqualification of company directors are grossly weak and unsatisfactory, a national disgrace that no government is prepared to address. That's the real lesson that won't be learned.



Blogger Richard T said...

Whether separately or conjoined with an Inquiry into News International, there needs to be an Inquiry into the activity (or lack thereof) of the Metropolitan Police. There seems to have been an undesirably close relationship between the force and some of the News International papers - to mutual profit from what Rebekah Brooks has admitted - and this needs both exposure and remdy.

11 April, 2011 09:05  

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