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Phone hacking saga to run and run

The charging of former News International chief executive Rebekah Brooks with conspiracy to pervert the course of justice in connection with phone hacking at the News of the World can only add to the growing sense of political crisis in Britain.

Prime minister Cameron, a close friend of Brooks and her husband Charlie, must have hoped that the hacking saga would be brought to a close by the Leveson inquiry, which is due to report later this year.

But with serious charges levelled against Brooks, her husband and four other former News International employees over the alleged concealment of evidence, a lengthy trial will figure in the second half of this government’s scheduled life.

Cameron, who used to sign text messages to Brooks “LOL” (intended, apparently, to mean lots of love rather than “laugh out loud”), is due to give evidence before Leveson in the next few weeks.

So is culture secretary Jeremy Hunt, who is fighting for his political life following accusations that his office guided News International as Rupert Murdoch’s corporation sought to buy up remaining shares in the  broadcaster BSkyB.

Their evidence is bound to throw up even more questions about the close relationship between Murdoch’s empire and successive government. Brooks, for example, also regarded the former New Labour prime minister Blair as a friend.

Yesterday, Alastair Campbell, who was Blair’s press secretary, had to explain why Labour changed its policy on media ownership before the 1997 election. He naturally denied it was anything to do with Murdoch’s influence (although the magnate had switched support to Labour from the Tories).

But the 2003 Communications Act was welcomed by Murdoch. It  represented New Labour thinking about globalisation, markets and ownership. It allowed cross-media ownership – newspapers owning TV stations – and opened up the market to non-British companies.

“Ownership rules must reflect the reality of a global marketplace,” the then culture secretary Tessa Jowell told MPs. Many of the media specific rules in force that prohibited particular accumulations of broadcast licences, or combinations of press and broadcasting interests were abolished. Media concentration was primarily to be dealt with on a case by case basis.

What is clear in all this is that governments have gone down on bended knees to powerful corporate interests – especially newspaper owners and bankers – and basically saw nothing wrong with doing so. We can only guess why police investigations into phone hacking got nowhere under New Labour.

Labour knighted seven bankers and even had people like RBS chief Fred Goodwin leading government task forces on credit unions (!). Regulation was so “light-touch” as to be non-existent. When the crisis broke in 2008, everyone seemed mightily surprised. Ordinary people, of course, are paying the price for all this, which is the way it is under a corporatocracy.

The ConDem coalition was cobbled together not so much in the “national interest”, as Cameron and Clegg insist, but in the interests of the financial markets and big business. Its growing instability is the result of a resistance to its policies and a general hatred of its public school persona.

The phone hacking scandal has claimed scalps at the highest level of the Metropolitan Police, led to the closure of a newspaper and many arrests. With the Tory right on the rampage and looking for a new leader, who knows where it will all end?

Paul Feldman
Communications editor    
15 May 2012                       

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