SocialismToday           Socialist Party magazine

Socialism Today 142 - October 2010

Put News International in the dock

THE NEWS of the World’s illegal phone hacking scandal and the pernicious role of Rupert Murdoch’s News International has erupted into life again. A New York Times investigation interviewed more than a dozen former News of the World (NoW) reporters and editors who "described a frantic, sometimes degrading atmosphere in which some reporters openly pursued hacking or other improper tactics to satisfy demanding editors". (NYT Magazine, 1 September)

Murdoch’s News International Ltd was widely criticised following an inquiry by a House of Commons select committee earlier this year. Together with the Guardian, this inquiry has helped expose widespread, illegal phone hacking by private investigators employed by the NoW. In 2006, the NoW’s royal reporter and a private investigator were jailed for accessing mobile phone voicemail messages. The then editor of the NoW, Andy Coulson, who is now the Tory prime minister’s chief spin doctor, resigned but claimed he knew nothing of the hacking carried out by his journalists. The Metropolitan Police claimed that the number of victims of phone hacking was very small and that there was no evidence that any other reporters or editors were involved.

This has now been exposed as nonsense. Paul McMullan, a former features executive on the NoW and then member of the newspaper’s investigations team, says that he personally commissioned private investigators to commit several hundred acts which could be regarded as unlawful. Moreover, the use of illegal techniques was no secret at the paper, and senior editors, including Coulson, were aware this was going on.

Sean Hoare, a former reporter who worked for Coulson at The Sun and NoW, told the New York Times that he had played tape recordings of hacked messages for Coulson and that his former boss "actively encouraged me" to break into the voicemail accounts of public figures. Hoare told the BBC that Coulson "was well aware that the practice exists. To deny it is a lie, is simply a lie".

The New York Times found that the Metropolitan Police had seized 4,332 names, 2,987 mobile phone numbers and 91 PIN codes (needed for accessing voicemail messages) in the possession of the private investigator, Glenn Mulgaire, when he was arrested. Clearly, phone hacking and other activities were being practiced on an industrial scale. Moreover, the Met were anxious not to investigate any further, following the prosecution of one NoW reporter and one private investigator. Andy Hayman, who led the inquiry for the Met, now writes for the Times and other Murdoch papers. There is a growing catalogue of evidence to suggest a very close relationship between sections of the police and News International – one that could have played a material role in the operational decisions of the Met’s investigation into the phone hacking activities at the NoW.

Even among the cosseted elite at Westminster, there is a growing mood of anger at the out-of-control actions of the Murdoch empire. The home affairs select committee and the standards and privileges committee have now initiated two new investigations. An inquiry into the actions of the Murdoch empire, however, cannot be left to MPs, the House of Commons or Metropolitan Police. Instead, a genuine, full public inquiry needs to be held into the activities of News International which must involve all police files and information held in relation to the NoW’s actions being 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.

"They, the barons of the media with their red-topped assassins", says Labour MP, Tom Watson, "are the biggest beasts in the modern jungle. They have no predators, they are untouchable, they laugh at the law, they sneer at parliament, they have the power to hurt us and they do with gusto and precision". (Independent, 10 September)

The power of the Murdoch machine continues to grow. News International’s four UK papers (The Sun, The Times, Sunday Times and News of the World) hold a 37% share of all newspaper circulation. Sky TV is already the biggest broadcaster in terms of revenue – £5.9 billion last year alone with profits just under £1 billion. This puts Sky ahead of the BBC and ITN in terms of financial resources. Murdoch is desperate to win 100% control of BSkyB (he currently holds 40%), so he can access the full cash-cow that is Sky TV.

Murdoch has been lobbying David Cameron and the new government to allow News International to own BSkyB outright, giving it an unassailable position as the UK’s most powerful broadcaster, at least financially. Alongside this, News International executives, particularly Murdoch junior, have launched a broadside against the BBC and its ‘monopoly’, calling for an end to licence fee payments going to the corporation. Their aim is to establish a totally dominant position not only for their titles, but also the political ideology they promote: free-market capitalism and a virulent hostility to the interests of the working class. The fact that, both under Tony Blair and now Cameron, there is an open-door policy at No.10 provided to Murdoch is yet another indication of the huge influence that the billionaire’s empire wields.

Under capitalism, the media is neither fair nor impartial. Ultimately, it defends the prevailing capitalist system and the abuse of power and control by a rich and powerful elite. In the wake of a huge capitalist economic crisis, the media will aim to peddle the lie that working-class people should pay for a crisis they did not create.

To achieve a democratic press we need to end the control by the billionaire media moguls who determine so much of what is seen and heard on our TV screens, radio, newspapers and even the internet. A wide-ranging programme of bringing these giants into democratic public ownership is the only way to break their power. It would then be possible to ensure democratic access to the press based on an allocation to different ideas, including socialist views, dependent on their levels of public support. This could ensure an end to the scandalous abuse of power perpetrated by the billionaire media monsters.

Philip Stott

Socialist Party Scotland (CWI Scotland)

Defend Tommy and Gail Sheridan

IN 2006, Tommy Sheridan, Scotland’s best known socialist, defeated the News of the World in a civil defamation case and was awarded £200,000 by the jury.

Following that victory, however, an onslaught of victimisation, intimidation and persecution has been carried out by a combination of the Crown office and Lothian and Borders police – encouraged by News International. Tommy and Gail Sheridan are now facing charges of perjury relating to the 2006 civil case. After a two-year police investigation which cost over £2 million and tens of thousands of hours of police officers’ time, an eight-week trial is due to start in October. One issue should be the listening device found in Tommy’s car in 2007. No action has been taken by the police against those responsible for planting it in the car. Was it yet another example of NoW’s illegal methods?

Working-class communities will rightly be asking why millions can be found to fund a vendetta against a socialist fighter, while schools and community facilities are being threatened with the axe. For the rich and powerful interests who have led this witch-hunt, however, there are scores to settle. This is payback for Tommy Sheridan’s leading role during the mass anti-poll tax movement in the late 1980s and early 1990s. The movement of ordinary working-class men and women defeated the poll tax and brought down Thatcher.

Tommy Sheridan continued to be a thorn in the side of the establishment, being successfully elected from his prison cell in Saughton prison to Glasgow city council in 1992. Tommy was also a member of the Scottish parliament (MSP) for ten years – when he lived as a workers’ MSP on a worker’s wage.

The ruling class want to inflict a defeat on Tommy Sheridan in order to send out a warning to every worker, trade unionist and socialist: don’t stand up and fight; accept the onslaught of cuts and attacks while the millionaires and billionaires walk away without a scratch from an economic crisis they created.

That is why Socialist Party Scotland are giving our 100% support to Tommy Sheridan and his partner Gail. It is why we want to see the reactionary billionaire, Rupert Murdoch, the News of the World and the Scottish legal establishment defeated: because they represent the rich and powerful and the enemies of working-class people.


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