x Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 26 July 2017

Hacking scandal leaves Britons cynical and revulsed over newspaper journalism

The indifference or cynicism previously felt by many readers over the News of the World's ethically suspect reporting methods has been replaced by widespread revulsion after it emerged that the newspaper's targets extended beyond celebrities and politicians to include ordinary people.

Rupert Murdoch, centre, attempts to speak to the media after he held a meeting with the parents and sister of murdered school girl Milly Dowler in London on Friday. The lawyer for Milly Dowler's family says Rupert Murdoch has issued a full and sincere apology to the murdered schoolgirl's family for the actions of journalists at his newspaper. Kirsty Wigglesworth / AP Photo
Rupert Murdoch, centre, attempts to speak to the media after he held a meeting with the parents and sister of murdered school girl Milly Dowler in London on Friday. The lawyer for Milly Dowler's family says Rupert Murdoch has issued a full and sincere apology to the murdered schoolgirl's family for the actions of journalists at his newspaper. Kirsty Wigglesworth / AP Photo

LONDON // Millions of Britons woke yesterday and faced a Sunday deprived of their weekly fix of celebrity gossip and sport from the New of the World, the 168-year-old newspaper shut down last week by media mogul Rupert Murdoch amid allegations of phone-hacking and corrupt practices.

Much more than its sister newspaper, The Sun, which publishes six days a week, the News of the World's readership had extended beyond the traditional working-class to include Britons from all walks of life eager for some weekend light relief.

But the indifference or cynicism previously felt by many readers over the News of the World's ethically suspect reporting methods has been replaced by widespread revulsion after it emerged that the newspaper's targets extended beyond celebrities and politicians to include ordinary people.

The vitriol was sparked by the allegation earlier this month that the tabloid had hacked into the voicemail of Milly Dowler, an abducted schoolgirl later found murdered. Her story riveted the country in 2002. The hacker apparently deleted her voice messages, giving false hope to her family that she had deleted them herself and was still alive.

Signed advertisements that Mr Murdoch placed in British newspapers this past weekend in which he acknowledged "serious wrongdoing" by the News of the World were unlikely to sway public opinion. They followed his face-to-face apology to the Dowler family in London on Friday.

Gary Abbott, a 54-year-old driver, who was lunching on Saturday at The Woolsack cafe in Bermondsey, south-east Londonn, just across the Thames from the headquarters of Mr Murdoch's British newspapers at Wapping, said: "I did wonder about how the News of the World found their information but now I'm disgusted and disappointed. I wouldn't even buy the last and final edition of the newspaper last week."

Mr Murdoch bought the News of the World in 1968. The newspaper had a reputation for investigative reporting into the misdeeds of the rich and famous and had a unique position in British society, described by George Orwell, the British writer, in an essay written in 1946: "It is Sunday afternoon … The wife is already asleep in the armchair, and the children have been sent out for a nice long walk. You put your feet up on the sofa, settle your spectacles on your nose, and open the News of the World," Orwell wrote.

News Corp, the media empire built up over five decades by the 80-year-old Mr Murdoch, who was born in Australia and is now a US citizen, includes The Times and Sunday Times in Britain as well as Fox News, the Wall Street Journal and the Dow Jones news wire in the US.

Cliff Ryder, Mr Abbott's lunch partner, a 57-year-old London cab driver, said: "I also used to get the Sunday Times but I just don't know if I'll do that anymore. The press, the English press, really has been brought low by all of this."

Mr Murdoch and his top lieutenants have been unable to limit the damage to Britain. Last week, the US Federal Bureau of Investigation said it was looking into allegations that victims of the September 11, 2001 attacks had their phones hacked too.

New Corp's shares have taken a battering and the company has been forced to curtail its European expansion and drop a bid for BSkyB, the UK's largest pay-television operator, after an outcry was raised in the British House of Commons by all three leading political parties.

The steady drip of revelations and allegations about the News of the World's practices is dominating the headlines in competitor newspapers and on television news programmes.

However, the story's dominance is already leading to some weariness. "I'm disgusted by the BBC, which is very English because all it's been covering is the Murdoch drama. What about what's happening in Libya or lots of other important stories?" Mr Abbott said.

But the story was still likely to top all other issues this week as Mr Murdoch prepares for his appearance tomorrow before a British parliamentary committee, which was expected to focus on whether parliament was misled over the hacking allegations in previous investigations.

Also appearing before the committee will be James Murdoch, his son, who heads News International, News Corp's British newspapers subsidiary. Rebekah Brooks, who quit as News International's chief executive on Friday, was due to appear before the committee too, but looks unlikely to appear after her arrest yesterday in connection with the scandal. She had been editor of the News of the World when most of the phone-hacking apparently took place. Les Hinton, who has worked with Mr Murdoch for 52 years, was also forced to step down as chief executive of Dow Jones on Friday.

Few expect the scandal to die down soon, given that further details of the unsavoury ties between the press, politicians and police are likely to emerge from the various investigations launched by David Cameron, the British prime minister.

Although the Conservative leader, just like his Labour predecessors, appeared to have a cosy relationship with Mr Murdoch, Mr Cameron was the only politician to have appointed a top Murdoch lieutenant as his spokesman. Andy Coulson, a former editor of the News of the World, resigned from Mr Cameron's service in January and was arrested and questioned by police last week.

Kris Brown, a Labour councillor on Liverpool's City Council, said on Saturday: "What the News of the World was up to was a disgrace but it's sad that a 168-year-old newspaper had to shut down and 200 people lose their jobs. But just like we saw with the financial crisis, things will eventually calm down and then it'll be back to business as usual. It's not the end of News International but it'll be interesting to see if all the Murdochs survive this."

sdevi@thenational.ae