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UK newspaper phone-tapping scandal

July 9, 2009

Back in the UK, the Sunday newspaper, The News of the World, known largely for its obsession with minor celebrity scandal has been itself the subject of rather more serious investigations, following revelations that it has paid out over £1 Million (around $1.4 M US) to people whose phones it secretly tapped in its search for dirt. Proprietor, Aussie, Rupert Murdoch, is known to satirical magazine, Private Eye, as the ‘Dirty Digger’, and given this showing, he seems to be earning his nickname.

The Guardian editorial highlights this as another threat to privacy, but there’s much more here. Murdoch is one of the most powerful men in the world and his company, News International, covers far more than just Britain – they recently bought the Wall Street Journal, for example. His more ‘serious’ newspaper, The Times of London (for whom, I should declare, I have written a piece once) was very vocal in the past in attacking the recently-retired Information Commissioner, Richard Thomas, first over his comments on ‘sleepwalking into a surveillance society’ and then later on his attempts to bring newspapers under the same regulatory regime over privacy as other organisations.

At the time, it was hard to know what the agenda was; but clearly it was more than the supposedly ‘honourable’ position of acting to protect journalistic independence and the rights of their sources. Now, I think, we can start to understand a little more about the view The Times advocated – perhaps it was simply trying to deflect public investigation into the illegal, underhand and privacy-invasive surveillance practices of other parts of the News International empire.

We should indeed be worried by this, not just because of the activities themselves, but because of the attempts to manipulate public policy and undermine the authority of one of the few people who was interested in, and capable of, attacking abuses of surveillance by the media by an increasingly powerful global private company.

So, does News International own newspapers in your country? Do you know what they get up to? Someone needs to dig the dirt…

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