Hacks and Hacking

Down here in Dartmoor, Hacking means taking the horse out.

Not in London.

There are all too few journalists who are trusted. I wonder why? They always show up as being less wholesome than estate agents – or even, God help us – ruddy politicians.

I know a few journalists. Generally my own opinion is coloured by the ones who work in TV and radio, with a few real professionals, such as Ruth Dudley Edwards – a woman whom I am delighted to call a friend.

There are plenty of examples of journos who’re truthful (ish) and reliable. I like FleetStreetFox (http://www.fleetstreetfox.com/) for her insights into the business, and there are plenty of other decent scribblers. The ones I rate most highly are, naturally, the ones in Private Eye because I know damn well that if there’s a group of journalists which is hated by everyone, they must be doing the job particularly well. So, Ian Hislop and Francis Wheen get my vote every time.

There are also the superb pros in The Register. Not seen them? Forget the Huffington. Go and look at http://www.theregister.co.uk/ for all the news on government, the law, gadgets, computing and everything in the middle. I trust them because over time they’ve shown themselves to be ahead of the game, generally.

So there are plenty of reliable and decent fellows out there. (I could mention the superb reviewers in the Literary Review here, but modesty prevents… just go to my last post, all right?)

And yet what is there in the news today?

Two papers are in court being prosecuted for deliberate contempt of court. They learned the name of a suspect in a murder case, and went for him in a big way. He was being questioned by the police, but that was all the evidence against him. As it was, for some days the poor devil was the target of the bile of the majority of the press, with them going into his life in detail and deciding that he was clearly a nutter and must have killed the girl renting his flat. Naturally  many people assumed he was guilty. He wasn’t. The murderer has been caught now, and has confessed.

So, these two scandal-sheets could easily have prejudiced a murder trial so devastatingly that an innocent man could have been jailed. Or so prejudiced the case that he was allowed to walk free, while always having the stain of guilt hanging over him, probably until some moron decided to take the law into his own hands. There are plenty of brain dead cretins in Britain, it should be said. Like the ones in Wales who decided that the Paediatrician deserved a good thumping. Yes, paediatrician. The mob got that confused with paedophile. In this latest case in Bath, it was more luck than good judgement that led to the genuine felon being caught.

Then there is the matter of the strangely pathetic Johann Hari.

I confess, I have never read his pieces because I rarely ever have time to pick up a paper, but it would seem that he’s built a career out of mendaciously copying and pasting comments from his supposed interviewees. Some of his friends are arguing that what he’s done isn’t plagiarism. Well, I always think, if the guy was a right-winger, what would the left wing press be saying about him. Yes, they’d be accusing him of plagiarism and probably baby-eating as well. But it’s OK because his editor is standing by him.

That speaks volumes about his editor’s competence. Oh, and talking of editors. The poor editrice (not a word you’ve heard? Probably because I made it up, but it’s rather a good one, isn’t it? I think I’ll keep it. It may catch on!) of the News of the World.

Not that she is now. She’s so good, she’s become the guv’nor of News International here in the UK. Darling Rebekah, the lovely red-head who was in charge at the News of the Screws when, allegedly – hell, no, they aren’t denying it, so it’s not allegedly, it’s “apparently” – they were using a PI to break into people’s phone accounts and steal their voice recordings.

How do you steal a voice recording? Well, for the benefit of American friends, or ex-pats who’ve been living on the moon for a couple of years, over here we had a horrible murder some years ago. A young girl, only thirteen or so years old, called Milly Dowler, was kidnapped, raped and murdered. The case was particularly horrible because the body was hidden, but the police believed she was still alive. Why? Because voice mails on her mobile phone were being deleted.

It wasn’t her, of course. It was the PI in the pay of the papers. He was hacking in to the phone system. Because it was full, he deleted a bunch of messages so that he could hear the next ones in the queueing system.

Thus not only was the right to privacy breached, this incomparable cretin was screwing up a murder investigation as well.

Can the papers continue with this kind of abuse?


There must be a demand for an open, public enquiry into the press in the UK. There have to be punishments for people who infringe other people’s rights, and penalties for news groups, no matter how powerful, when their staff break the law. Such as the lovely Rebekah.

News International is enormously powerful. They own, I heard today, some 37% of the news media in the UK. That is pretty staggering. What is even more impressive, though, is their business acumen. I recall some years ago reading in Private Eye that they were tax-neutral. That is, over the previous ten years or so, they had paid in precisely nothing. Not as a fiddle, of course. Dear me, no. They were taking advantage of the tax position in the UK that allows a firm trading here to report a loss from any foreign investments. So, for example, if they set up a new company in America to trade over there, any start-up costs could be offset against UK tax. And News International appears to be successful at opening foreign businesses.

So, in a week and  a bit we have had a plagiarist, we’ve had a court case open with two papers allegedly prejudicing a murder trial, and another case in which a poor murdered girl and her family were used to make big bucks.

Because that is what it’s all about. It’s money. Papers exist to tell stories. Some are true. I believe more of what I read in Private Eye than most organs, but even the Sun gets it right sometimes (now Kelvin Mackenzie’s not there any more). That is what they are there for: to tell the truth so that the public can be better informed.

Except we aren’t. Because we cannot trust the papers any more than we can trust the word on the street, or other forms of gossip. Dare I mention Twitter?

Once, The Thunderer was known to produce accurate reports for the public. It was the journalist’s coverage of the Crimean War that led to the creation of nursing services under the old battleaxe Florence Nightingale, and to the modernisation of the army. The Times in those days did great good. In more recent years it has campaigned, and has had investigative successes too.

But those who hack into private phone numbers and steal messages, those who bribe Police, ambulance, paramedical and other officers to give them snippets about recently arrested suspects or those injured, the ones who lie to the public, all of them are contemptible. They should be exposed, and they should lose their well-paid jobs.

Oh, and one last point. Rebekah? Are you listening? Having you decide to implement an investigation into what your paper was doing while you were editor really doesn’t quite meet the impartiality criterion. In other words, dear, quit and let someone else figure out what you were doing. OK?

3 Responses to “Hacks and Hacking”
  1. I couldn’t have put it better myself! Well, I didn’t. Brilliant stuff. Will retweet.


  2. Carole Schultz says:

    Hear, hear, Michael. Well said.


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