Sunday, July 10, 2011

A Thousand Pound Fine After Months In Court While The Lawyers Get Fat And The Law Gets Bought

Still struggling to get a handle on the plethora of developments over the past week arising from the News of the World hacking affair? Have a look at this video of the Gruniad's only slightly smarmy and offensive editor, Alan Rusbridger, summarising a whirlwind week of arrests, political confessions and allegations of deleted e-mails.
News International found e-mails in 2007 which appeared to indicate that illegal payments were being made to the police officers for information, although this evidence of alleged criminal behaviour was not handed to the Metropolitan Police for investigation until 20 June of this year.
The BBC's Robert Peston broke the story - for once, shortly before the Gruniad - and stated that, according to 'sources', these e-mails 'were in the possession of the firm of solicitors Harbottle & Lewis.' They were retrieved from the solicitors by Will Lewis, the general manager of News International - who is in charge of News International's investigation into what went wrong at the News of the World (and who Peston - a close person friend of Lewis - adds quickly 'was recruited by News International last July'). The e-mails, state Peston, appear to show that Andy Coulson, the editor of the News of the World from 2003 until 2007, authorised payments to the police for 'help with stories.' They also appear to show, Peston continues, that phone hacking at the paper went 'wider than the activities of a single rogue reporter, which was the News of the World's claim at the time.' And, indeed, which remained their position until January of this year. Coulson, who subsequently became David Cameron's director of communications, was arrested last week. He denies everything. In a letter presented to the Commons culture, media and sport select committee, Harbottle & Lewis confirmed that it had been asked by News International to review whether the illegal actions of Clive Goodman - the News of the World's former Royal editor jailed in 2007 for phone hacking - were known to any of his News of the World colleagues. In this letter, dated 29 May 2007, and sent to Jon Chapman of News International, Lawrence Abramson of Harbottle & Lewis wrote that it had 'reviewed e-mails to which you have provided access from the accounts of Andy Coulson, Stuart Kuttner, Ian Edmondson, Clive Goodman, Neil Wallis, Jules Stenson.' Abramson confirmed to Chapman that it 'did not find anything in those e-mails which appeared to us to be reasonable evidence that Clive Goodman's illegal actions were known about and supported by both or either of Andy Coulson, the editor, and Neil Wallis, the deputy editor, and/or that Ian Edmondson, the news editor, and others were carrying out similar illegal procedures.' The letter from Abramson to Chapman makes no mention of whether the e-mails contain evidence of wrongdoing by journalists other than Goodman. However, Peston states, when Will Lewis and his fellow News International executives re-acquired those e-mails from Harbottle & Lewis, they found what they perceived to be prima facie evidence that the illegal phone hacking 'went wider than just the activities of Goodman and that there were potentially illegal payments to the police.' Lewis went looking for these e-mails, Peston claims, after the Metropolitan police of Operation Weeting, who are investigating alleged phone hacking, enquired about the existence of two thousand five hundred e-mails which Colin Myler - who replaced Coulson as editor of the News of the World - mentioned to MPs on the culture committee. He told the MPs these e-mails been 'trawled through' as part of his own enquiry into whether hacking was carried out by others than Goodman. In response to a question by the MP the odious Philip Davies about whether Goodman was working alone, Myler said: 'I conducted this inquiry with Daniel Cloke, our Director of Human Resources. Over two thousand five hundred e-mails were accessed because we were exploring whether or not there was any other evidence to suggest essentially what you are hinting at. No evidence was found; that is up to two thousand five hundred e-mails.' Lewis and his News International colleagues on a newly created Management and Standards Committee have not found the full two thousand five hundred e-mails mentioned by Myler, just the sub-set of three hundred which were passed to Harbottle & Lewis. The disclosure that News International found three hundred e-mails as long ago as 2007 which indicated at the very least the potential for wider malpractices at the News of the World than those which led to the jailing of Goodman and of the private detective Glen Mulcaire, is likely to increase criticism of News International's chairman, James Murdoch. In December 2007, Murdoch took charge of News International as chief executive of the European and Asian operations of its parent company, News Corporation. Some four months later, in April 2008, he authorised the payment of a substantial out-of-court settlement, running to several hundred thousand pounds, with Gordon Taylor, chief executive of the Professional Footballers' Association, over the hacking of Taylor's phone. That settlement - which was agreed by Murdoch and signed off by News International's chief operating officer at the time, Clive Milner - contained a gagging clause, making it impossible for either party to talk about the settlement or what led to it (though many of its details were subsequently revealed by the Gruniad). Murdoch has now conceded that it was wrong of him to agree to the settlement with Taylor and also to other out-of-court settlements made at a similar time. He said on Thursday: 'I now know that I did not have a complete picture when I did so. This was wrong and is a matter of serious regret.' There have been allegations, notes Peston, that Murdoch, in settling with Taylor, was endeavouring to 'put a lid on the furore' to deter a wider police investigation of the News of the World's behaviour. News International denies this.

Barely had the ink dried on that doo-dah, when the Gruniad - even more detailed - report went up. Police, they said, had been handed what they describe as 'internal News International memos' from 2007 which 'appear to acknowledge that the practice of phone hacking was more widespread than previously thought and that police were paid for helping with stories.' The memos - which were written in the wake of the jailing of Goodman and Mulcaire - allegedly show that the pair were not the only News International employees implicated in phone hacking. The disclosure of the memos, they add, comes four years after the then executive chairman of News International, Les Hinton, told MPs that the organisation 'believed Goodman was the sole staff offender.' While giving evidence to the Commons culture committee on 6 March 2007, Hinton was asked whether the News of the World had 'carried out a full, rigorous internal inquiry' into phone hacking and whether he was 'absolutely convinced' that the practice was limited to a single reporter. He replied: 'Yes, we have and I believe he was the only person, but that investigation, under the new editor [Colin Myler], continues.' The select committee was also told that News International had carried out an internal inquiry 'of e-mails still on its IT systems' in May 2007. The Gruniad says that it understands News International's chief executive, Rebekah Brooks, and James Murdoch, the chairman of its parent company, News Corporation, 'were made aware of the memos only relatively recently.'

Filming for the Doctor Who Christmas special is likely to begin 'in early September' according to an - anonymous - 'source' within the BBC quoted in several Sunday papers. But, not in the News of the World. They had other things to worry about. How to claim income support, for one.

Watching the BBC's - excellent - coverage of the British Grand Prix from Silverstone during an interview with Martin Brundle, Prince Harry revealed that he's a regular viewer of Top Gear. Known for riding bikes and piloting helicopter, when asked by Martin if he fancied a go in a F1 car, Harry replied 'I can't do much worse than Hammond!' Bet that'll put the royal-licking clowns at the Daily Scum Mail in something of quandary! He's third in line to the throne, after all. Immediately afterwards, Martin caught up with old Jean Luc Picard himself, Patrick Stewart, another huge F1 fan. And then, subsequently, England cricketers Alistair Cook and Stuart Broad. Jake Humphreys, meanwhile, got to have a trip around the Top Gear complex. Asking Clarkson if he could speak to The Stig, he was told 'just move out of the way as he comes past, that's what everybody else does!' Sebastian Vettel was also there, filming his piece for Sunday night's episode in which he was the Star in a Reasonably Priced Car. In the race itself however, Fernando Alonso took Ferrari's first win of 2011. The Spaniard took the lead following a pit-stop problem for Red Bull's Vettel but the Ferrari had genuine race-winning pace. Vettel was left to fend off team-mate Mark Webber, who was told to hold position by team boss Christian Horner. Lewis Hamilton finished fourth, holding off Ferrari's Felipe Massa in an exciting last-lap duel. 'This isn't a gift to Ferrari,' said BBC F1 co-commentator David Coulthard. 'They've got to the lead of this race by merit.' Jenson Button, sadly, retired following a problem at his final pit stop, when he set off to rejoin the race without a wheel nut on his right front wheel and he had to stop in the pit exit.

Milly Dowler's family's lawyer interviewed by the BBC, said that the News of the World scandal has visited 'anguish upon anguish' on the already embattled family. 'With the notable exception of three politicians, nobody has been speaking of the power of the press on politics; politicians have been fearful of the press,' he says. He named Chris Bryant, Tom Watson and John Prescott as the three parliamentarians who have stood up to Murdoch. The News of the World's actions were 'like your best friend betraying you,' he added.

The award for the most utterly surreal TV metaphor of the weekend came from Sky News' political correspondent, the silver fox himself Peter Spencer. During a conversation - with the hugely Scottish Julie MacDonald - Spencer noted that, it relation to the entire phone-hacking malarkey and shenanigans, the prime minster would, doubtless, like to bury the story. 'But,' said the silver fox, 'that's like trying to drown a balloon, it ain't easy!' I like a sharp simile myself, Peter, but that's just bizarre!

The events of the past week are 'like a nightmare scripted by Noam Chomsky and Slavoj Zizek,' according to Paul Mason in a thought-provoking blogpost. 'Key parts of the political machinery of Britain are wavering,' according to Newsnight's economics editor, who adds that the strength of the Murdoch media empire was that it occupied 'the commanding heights a kind of journalism that dispenses power, intimidates and influences politicians and shapes political outcomes.' The other 'rival power node is the Daily Mail and General Trust,' according to Mason, who says that a major shift is in the offing. 'For all the difficulties Mr Cameron had with the immediate question - of judgement over the employment of Andy Coulson; of what did he ask and when - it is clear that he intends to make a strategic break with the press barons,' he writes. 'Likewise, Mr Miliband had already burned his bridges. If Britain's senior politicians are serious about that break then it will signal - without a single law being passed - a major change in the country's de-facto constitution.'

It looks as though the News of the World crossword compilers have left a few cryptic-yet-bitter messages for Rebekah Brooks in the final edition - the Torygraph's Raf Sanchez notes: 'Despite orders allegedly given from the top of News International to "ensure there were no libels or any hidden mocking messages of the chief executive,"' staff appear to have found a way of mocking Mrs Brooks one last time. Among the clues in the paper's Quickie puzzle were: "Brook", "stink", "catastrophe" and "digital protection". The clues for the Cryptic Crossword seemed to cut even closer to the bone, with examples including: "criminal enterprise", "mix in prison", "string of recordings" and "will fear new security measure."'

BBC2's brilliant one-off drama Vincent Van Gogh: Painted with Words starring Benedict Cumberbatch, averaged nine hundred and fifty five thousand viewers between 7.45pm and 9.15pm. The audience rose from eight hundred and thirty thousand when the programme started - late, because the women's football overran - to a peak of 1.61m in the final fifteen minutes. Hosted by Chris Addison, Have I Got A Bit More News For You followed with a healthy 1.95m, before Secrets of the Pop Song was watched by 1.01m from 9.50pm. Over on BBC1, the return of John Barrowman's teeth on Tonight's The Night dazzled to near-blindness 3.9m from 7.10pm, hammering ITV's Odd One In - starting at the same time - which slipped to 2.7m. The National Lottery: In It To Win It was the most-watched broadcast of the day with 5.25m from 8.10pm, while in second place, Casualty took 4.97m for the episode Divine Intervention. It was another rotten night for ITV, with Penn and Teller: Fool Us and The Marriage Ref both limping on with 3.05m at 8pm (plus two hundred and forty six thousand additional viewers on ITV+1) for the former and a truly risible 1.88m at 9pm for the latter. I'd start looking for a new job now if I were you, Dermott. Channel Four's screening of The Simpsons Movie - 'The Spider Pig Song', and all - drew 1.29m from 7.30pm and a further three hundred thousand on C4+1.

Helen Wood, the self-confessed prostitute who slept with Wayne Rooney and then went running to the newspapers about it, has apparently signed up to 'star', if that's the right word, in a new Channel Four series. The show is being produced by Sarah Dillistone - who is also behind The Only Way Is Essex and Made In Chelsea - and is said to 'follow five girls who offer their company to wealthy businessmen in exchange for "financial assistance."' Sounds tasteful. 'The project was originally inspired by a website called seekingarrangement.com, which is billed as "the premier Sugar­Daddy­dating site,"' a 'source' - anonymous because they're probably too ashamed to reveal their identity - is alleged to have told the Sunday Mirra. 'It provides an opportunity for rich­ businessmen to offer "'financial assistance" to single and attractive girls in exchange for their company. The ­programme is to be based around five girls seeking such ­arrangements. It plans to show the girls' side of the story and the exciting, lavish lifestyle that such an arrangement can provide. A pilot has been made and the programme makers are now in extensive talks with Channel Four, who appear very likely to take it on board. They feel that with the headlines that Helen created from her work as an escort girl, she is perfect to be the face of the new programme.' A Channel Four spokesman added: 'There's a media ­debate about high-profile personalities being unfaithful. We're looking at a number of ideas to get a glimpse into the lives of the women involved.' Well, what the News of the World no longer around, young women will presumably have to look to different avenues to make some coin now. Because, let's face it, actually working for a living, that's a big no-no, isn't it? Utterly shameful, so it is dear blog reader.

Meanwhile, on a somewhat related theme, Imogen Thomas is reportedly 'in talks' to 'star' - and, again, that's their word, not mine - in her own reality TV series. What, exactly, the former Big Brother contestant who hit the headlines in May due to her alleged relationship with married footballer Ryan Giggs intends to actually do in this reality format to entertain viewers remains, at this time, unknown. Will she, perhaps, sing? Dance? Tell a joke or two? Reveal hitherto unsuspected acting talents? Or, none of these things? Place your bets now, dear blog reader. Speaking of her upcoming career plans, she told the Daily Lies: 'I've got loads of exciting projects coming up and there are plans for me to get my own reality TV show. That would be amazing. I've also got an exciting film role lined up for later this year. Things are good.' It was previously suggested that Thomas would be starring in her own dating show titled Imogen Finds A Husband. This is the world we live in, dear blog reader. Sick.

One of the more interesting stories of the day was the article, by 'Anonymous', an alleged 'Murdoch insider' writing in the Scum Mail on Sunday, which states, baldly, that 'two hundred staff at the News of the World were sacrificed to save the career of Chief Executive Rebekah Brooks' and that 'PR men would think of a story and Rebekah's Sun and News of the World would run it, word for word. Some were complete fiction.' Only some? How very disquieting. They continue: 'The integrity of the Sun and the News of the World started crumbling the moment Rebekah Brooks got her hands on them.' That, of course, suggests that either of them had any integrity before then - which is, frankly - risible. 'Throughout her career, she has had one aim only: self-glorification. She used the papers to promote her own interests, not to break stories or to entertain. Good journalism was secondary. She sold the soul of the Sun and the News of the World to PR snake-oil merchants. It was not real journalism, but client journalism. Rebekah's real skill is a manipulator of people. She is very skilful at persuading people to dance at the click of a finger. Her main aim was to show that she could beat men at their own game in Fleet Street. In a way, she did. The moment she was editor, she wanted to go higher and run News International itself. I have never seen a woman so driven by ambition and yet so lacking talent. What she does have – in abundance – is an ability to get what she wants. Mainly from men. And they would do whatever it took to please her – including phone hacking. Tony Blair and David Cameron were both charmed. True, they got what they wanted in the main: supportive coverage. But Rebekah also got what she wanted: regular invitations to No 10, parties with Blair and riding with Cameron. Blair is gone and need not worry; Cameron may pay a heavy price.' So ... not a fan then, I'm guessing.

Over at the Guardian, the media commentator, for editor of the Mirra and professor of journalism Roy Greenslade has warned that despite the sentimentalism over the News of the World's last issue, we should not forget its wrongdoings - and not just the alleged phone hacking or police payments: 'Yet this is the paper that was forced in 2008 to pay damages of sixty thousand pounds for a gross intrusion into the privacy of Max Mosley. Also in 2008, the paper paid damages to film star Rosanna Arquette for falsely claiming she had been a drug addict. In 2009, it paid damages to the Unite leader Derek Simpson for falsely claiming he had breached union election rules. In 2010, it paid five-figure damages to Sheryl Gascoigne for libelling her over her relationship with her former husband. It was also in 2010 that the paper entrapped the world snooker champion John Higgins in a highly suspect sting operation. This is a mere random selection from scores of the paper's post-2006 iniquities that resulted in it paying out thousands in damages. Were these the high standards to which the editorial refers? Indeed, the most nauseating spread is that dedicated to the boasts of "award-winning investigations editor" Mazher Mahmood. "I clocked up two hundred and fifty successful prosecutions," he writes. His claims have never been properly checked, and they also include cases where people have been treated leniently by judges because of the controversial methods used by the fake sheikh. As for the rest of the souvenir issue, it takes us through historical front pages, back to the paper's broadsheet era, a time when it sold 8.4m copies while covering the news and running readable op-ed pages alongside its titillating court reports. It is noticeable how that changed dramatically once it went tabloid in 1984. One interesting page one is the November 1999 issue bearing the headline "Archer quits as News of the World exposes false alibi." It was a truly sensational story, exposing the former Tory MP as a liar and perjurer that was to end with Lord Archer going to jail. That was an example where I thought the paper was wholly justified in its subterfuge and covert taping. It was a first-class piece of public interest journalism, and it should have been viewed as a triumph for the editor at the time, Phil Hall. In fact, it led to his dismissal in May 2000 because Rupert Murdoch didn't want that Archer scoop published. Hall defied him. Of course, it was dressed up as a resignation. But it illustrates how, when it comes to the News of the World, the News Corp boss liked to have his own way.'

There's also a very good piece by the Bard of Barking his very self, Billy Bragg, on the depature of the News of the Screws here.

So, after all that malarkey and shenanigans, we've got Keith Telly Topping's 33 of the Day, and what is, frankly, something approaching a state of the nation address from New Model Army. What's the word on the street, guys?

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