Scotland: Put the ‘News of the World’ on trial!

Bring the media monsters into public ownership

Rupert Murdoch’s News International has been lacerated by a report from a House of Commons select committee into the News of the World’s phone hacking activities. Chris Huhne, the Liberal Democrat Home Affairs spokesperson, in no sense an anti-establishment figure, has demanded a judicial inquiry. Ben Bradshaw, New Labour’s media secretary, said the report raised “extremely serious questions” for the Murdoch Empire. Even Gordon Brown’s official spokesperson described the revelations in the report as “absolutely breathtaking and an extreme cause for concern.”

The culture and media committee’s investigation followed reports in the Guardian newspaper in 2009 that exposed News International’s, and specifically the News of the World’s, use of illegal phone hacking of high profile figures. Those targeted included members of the royal family’s household – for which the News of the World’s royal editor, Clive Goodman, was jailed in 2007, and for which Gordon Taylor, head of the Professional Footballers Association, won £400,000 in damages from News International in 2007.

Despite denials from News International, this new report touches on just how widespread the use of illegal phone hacking by its journalists was. The Metropolitan Police found 91 pin numbers (used to gain access to mobile phone messages) during their investigation. The Met did not reveal to this select committee but were forced to disclose this information through a Freedom of Information request by the Guardian newspaper. One MP described News of the World’s actions as, “hacking on a near industrial scale.”

The Select Committee’s report follows evidence given to them by leading figures in News International, during which they claimed that the News of the World’s Clive Goodman was a “rouge” reporter and that no one else knew of his actions when he, and a private investigator, hacked the phones of aides to the royal household in 2006. Andy Coulson, who was the editor of the News of the World at the time, was forced to resign. He now works for Tory leader and wannabe prime minister, David Cameron. The MPs report describes the evidence given to them by News International’s journalists and executives as examples of “collective amnesia” and “deliberate obfuscation.” To most working people such parliamentary niceties would be summed up in one word: lies.

Tommy Sheridan after defeating the News of the World in 2006

The report from the Select Committee also attacks the Metropolitan Police for not launching a wide spread criminal investigation into the actions of News International, its journalists and executives. The Met’s deputy, John Yates, claimed there had only been a handful of people who had been hacked and there was no new evidence to proceed with a fuller investigation. And yet as one Labour MP, Tom Watson, explained, “Scotland Yard are sitting on a whole bank of information and data of senior people who were hacked.”

This report indicates, at least, a strong likelihood of an attempt by the Met and the Crown Prosecution Service to cover up the actions of News International. It raises serious questions about the possible collaboration of sections of the capitalist state machine in Britain with News International. It also clearly exposes the dirty and illegal methods of News of the World, who clearly believe they are ‘untouchable’ and beyond the reach of “democratic” accountability.

So out of control is the Murdoch Empire that even sections of the establishment want the wings of News International to be “clipped”, as the Select Committee report indicates.

News International is a global media monster, a reactionary attack dog. Some of their titles specialise in “sleaze” but they also pump out daily relentless anti-working class, anti-women and pro-capitalist bile. Even Gordon Brown has fallen victim of Murdoch’s gutter journalism. A recent scurrilous Sun headline described Brown as a “Prime Monster” – following the accusations of bullying against the prime minister.

Every group of workers who have taken action in defence of their jobs and working conditions were attacked by the Murdoch press. The miners were “scum”, striking firefighters were labeled as “Saddam stooges” and Liverpool football Club supporters, following the Hillsborough disaster, were accused of urinating on the dead and stealing from the dying.

Tommy Sheridan

The Murdoch Empire’s vendetta against prominent Scottish socialist and a leader of the mass anti-poll tax campaign of the late 1980’s and early 1990’s, Tommy Sheridan, is well known. Tommy Sheridan has, over the last four years, been involved in a titanic battle with powerful enemies, including the Scottish Crown office and News International. They seem desperate to make him pay for his role as an uncompromising fighter for working class people and the humiliation suffered by the News of the World when Tommy Sheridan defeated them in a civil defamation case in 2006. Tommy Sheridan, who defended himself, was awarded £200,000 in damages by a jury – not a penny of which has been paid by the Murdoch rag.   

The Scottish Crown Office has since spent millions of pounds of public money in pursuing a libel action against Tommy Sheridan and his wife Gail. These most recent revelations about the insidious methods used by News of the World and News International will raise even more questions about why, and in whose interests, the decision was taken to pursue a libel action against Tommy Sheridan. It also underlines the fact that the only side any socialist or class-conscious worker can be on in this battle is with Tommy Sheridan’s, and not that of Rupert Murdoch and News of the World.   

A full public inquiry needs to be held into the activities of News International. All police files and information held in relation to the News of the World actions should be handed over. Such an inquiry needs to be open and democratic and made up of elected and accountable representatives, including from the workers and trade union movement. Evidence of illegal activities by News International representatives, which already exists, should result in a trial and jail for those found guilty.

The fact that a billionaire like Rupert Murdoch can wield so much influence is an indication of how, under capitalism, our media is neither fair nor impartial – but ultimately is there to defend the prevailing capitalist system and the abuse of power and control by rich and powerful elites.

This system’s press and media, almost without exception, are prepared to peddle the lie that working class people should pay for a crisis we did not create. At the same time, the rich bankers and top bosses can cash in billions in bonuses and salaries beyond the dreams of millions of working class families facing unemployment and savage cuts in public services.   

We need a democratic press. To achieve that, we need to end the control by powerful interests of our TV screens, radio, newspapers and even the Internet. It would then be possible to ensure democratic access to the press, based on an allocation of media resources to different ideas, including socialist views, dependent on their levels of public support. This would ensure an end to the scandalous abuse of power perpetrated by the billionaire media monsters.

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March 2010