It is now one week since the phone scandal, which was been brewing for years, suddenly erupted to engulf the Murdochs. Every day has its harvest of new twists and turns. Wednesday saw politicians, friends and foes, seeking to distance themselves from them in the first Parliamentary debate after which News Corporation announcing they will withdraw their bid for BSkyB. Yesterday, the Commons Select Committee on Culture, Media and Sport served summons on Rupert Murdoch and his son James, threatening them with jail if they didn’t turn up to a hearing next Tuesday. On the same day, storm clouds started gathering in the US where the FBI started a criminal investigation and Democrat senators joined in the chorus to investigate News Corp for hacking Americans, violating the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act and possibly violating the accounting rules of the Securities and Exchange Commission.
Today Rebekah Brooks finally resigned from her position as News Corporation’s CEO, a day after Saudi prince Al-Waleed bin Talal Alsaud, the second largest shareholder in the company, said she would go if found to be involved.
Next week is likely to be even more eventful despite News International announcing they would run adverts in all British national newspapers apologising for what has happened. The crème de la crème will be the public hearing at the select committee next Tuesday where the Murdochs will be hanged to dry.
The credibility of so many senior executives in News Corp. now seems in tatters. James Murdoch's bid to taker over after his father is now seriously in trouble. Murdoch, himself at the centre of the web, seems to have got his upcommance, with more to come as further investigations will try and lift the veils on everything he has done to determine whether he is "fit and proper" to receive a license for a TV channel. In the US the law requires that same person to be "of good character".
Years of mounting outrage at Murdoch's tabloid empire and its ruthlessness, corruption and lawlessness is prompting many ordinary people to call for vigorous prosecution of all those implicated. At the same time some vested interest are taking advantage of the public revulsion to call for a toughening up of the regulations not just to punish wrongdoers but to curb the press and even a system of registering and striking off journalists. Many politicians start their rant by excoriating the Murdochs and finish up with a general condemnation of "the press" for being "too powerful."
But agreeing on a cure will prove more difficult than we may think. Attempts to regulate the press in the past lumbered us with harsh libels laws which saw diverse but less wealthy media shriveling up under the weight of libel suits while the rich and powerful prospered.
"The press is too powerful" should be read as nothing less than a prelude to increase liability for investigative journalists. After all, journalists are seen by some as having offended the royal family over Diana’s and pictures, outraged MPs over expenses and now crossed the last line over phone hacking.
As part of the general debate, Really the End of the World? was the title last night of a public meeting in central London organised by the NUJ which brought together journalists, unions officials, press freedom advocates and politicians. This was the first shot by the union to involve citizens in discussions on the future of the media and to shape up its campaign in the run up to the public enquiry. The union has also stepped up its campaign for industrial recognition at News International which is necessary to protect journalists from editorial pressure and help fight for a conscience clause. Murdoch cleared unions out of Wapping in the 80s and set up a company union as a bulwark against the NUJ and other unions to prevent them organise inside his empire.