Film, TV and the Arts

Film, TV and the Arts

Tuesday, 5 July 2011

Anger at severe allegations must not boil over into misconduct

The latest phone-hacking scandal defies description. The alleged hacking of Milly Dowler’s phone after her disappearance in 2002, and rumours of similar activities around the Soham murder victims, is nothing other than inhuman. There is no common ground between journalistic investigation and interfering with evidence in a crucial police case, and toying with the emotions of already tormented families.
Though these accusations are far worse than any which have gone before, they are merely the latest in a perfect storm surrounding News International. This story has become so large that it is worth noting that another major story of press misconduct is getting little or no coverage today, namely that of The Sun and The Mirror’s contempt of court case over articles published in relation to the Jo Yeates investigation at the turn of the year.
However, the News International saga has been rolling on for months and years and it has not made that much of a public impact. James Forsyth at The Spectator suggests that this might be about to change. I think that many will believe that when they see it. The fact is that there has, hitherto, been no villain in this case. There have been plenty of wrongdoers, but attempts to pin it on Rebekah Brooks and Andy Coulson have not stuck. With no-one person seen as utterly responsible, there is no focus for whatever public anger is out there.
One can be certain that the same public anger that the tabloids whipped up in cases such as the Dowler abduction shall be brought to bear on the News of the World from today. Brooks is fast becoming that villain of the piece. Ed Miliband has called for Brooks to “consider her conscience and consider her position”. Brooks, in the last few minutes, has stated her disgust at the story and given no indication that she is considering her position.
A public inquiry seems inevitable. It is certainly necessary. However, it remains questionable as to whether Brooks can actually be held responsible and whether Miliband and others have been too hasty in their targeting of her. It must be remembered that these remain allegations. If they are true, there must be severe punishment for this despicable act, but there must also be restraint from those who are rightly appalled. Desire to end this horrible conduct, and to land a blow on the Murdoch media machine must not boil over into another form of misconduct.
News International is in very hot water, and it seems very likely that heads should roll. If a villain is to be found, then it must be the right one.

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