This post is based on the hackademic textbook, The Phone Hacking Scandal: Journalism on Trial Vol. 2 (Arima 2012) by Prof. Richard Keeble and John Mair. Extracts from Huw L. Hopkins’ timeline chapter are in bold.
Weeks before Lord Justice Leveson gives his report, from the first part of the Inquiry into phone hacking and journalist behaviour, the media industry are sharpening their knives and firing warning shots. The Sun printed Prince Harry’s naked bottom, and those who received the Rule 13 letter described Leveson’s words as a “damning indictment” of their industry.
These moments of animosity are just battle plans before a raging war engulfs the press. Debates will take place, newspapers will fight their corner by digging up any and all dirt on Leveson in the name of freedom. As I collated the timeline, the marmite emotions of the press were something to highlight.
“Some journalists hailed Sir Brian Henry Leveson, Lord Justice of Appeal of England and Wales, as the saviour of British journalism, others feared for its life after he said the inquiry would be ‘not just a footnote for academics’.”
Slicing through layers of the phone hacking onion spawns hundreds of viewpoints, a multitude of stories, and excuse after excuse from editors, proprietors and writers who will cry blasphemy whatever the judge recommends. The reason journalism has reached this precipice is due to the outer layers now shed and forgotten. Noting the absolute moment phone hacking entered the press foray should not go amiss.
“Piers Morgan sat in front of a small camera, in a boxy little room as his face was beamed across the Atlantic on to a television screen in Courtroom #73. David Sherborne QC, acting for victims of press intrusion, asked Morgan about Welsh lorry driver Steven Nott who claims to have contacted Oonagh Blackman in August 1998. Nott had a story that the Daily Mirror might be interested in. Blackman was Special Projects Editor at the time and after taking down the information, she sent Nott £100, but the Mirror never ran the story. When Nott gave evidence, he said he thought it would have been ‘one of the biggest stories of the decade’. He had just picked the wrong decade.”
One reason the public felt drawn to Leveson was the recognisable faces it affected. Many questioned Prime Minister David Cameron’s knowledge of the situation at the News of the World, especially with former editor, Andy Coulson, being his press advisor. Coulson was so wrapped up in the mess he’s since been arrested and sat in court, not in the press stand, but in the role of defendant. For the public to maintain interest in a usually pathetic political debacle such as this Leveson had to call on people the public loved; actors, singers and celebrities they would normally pay good money to see.
“Hollywood actor Hugh Grant took to the stand. The choice to include him in the proceedings did two things: an A-list celebrity provided a touch of glitz to a potentially dull trial; it also spawned the greatest hashtag ever. The #womanontheleft, better known as top lawyer Carina Patry Hoskins, was considered to be ogling Grant on the left side of the screen, thus began trending across Twitter. The mainstream interest proved the world was following Leveson, not just stuffy old journalists.”
The public were won over by Grant’s charm and charisma, and shared his dissatisfaction and outrage, causing developed interest in normally tedious details of the inner-workings of the press. There would be outcry over such minimal squabbles like Rebekah Brooks and her horse, not to mention the major quagmires like MP Jeremy Hunt’s Murdoch cheerleading.
The phone hacking scandal was all over twitter, allowing everyone the chance to have a say. The Portland News Tweet index recently announced the subject that led to the Leveson Inquiry as the ‘most tweeted about topic’, but people did more than just broadcast their feelings over social networks.
“When Tony Blair gave evidence on 28 May… David Lawley Wakelin, of the Alternative Iraq Inquiry, stood in between Leveson and Blair saying: ‘The man is a war criminal!’ before being forcibly ejected. Many people compared the intrusion to Rupert Murdoch’s ‘humble pie’ moment, when Wendi Deng famously fought off an intruder with a shaving foam ‘custard pie’ at the select committee in July 2011.”
It was great television. The live stream had boring occasions but the classy interrogation style of Robert Jay QC kept the show’s narrative bumbling along. Courtroom #73 has been shut for several weeks now but as Lord Leveson said, “for me and for the team however, we have only just started”. Preparations for war are developing; the press will have the fight of its life.
Despite the popularity brought with the famous faces, away from the enjoyable political theatre, there is a sole reason the public turned against the press; they are victims themselves. Madeleine McCann, Sarah Payne, Joanna Yeates, Holly and Jessica and the revelation that changed journalism forever, Milly Dowler.
“Sally checked Milly’s voicemail, something she had done dozens of times only to hear that she could not be connected, meaning the voicemail box was full. This time is was different. ‘She’s picked up her voicemails Bob! She’s alive!’ Her daughter’s voicemails had been picked up, but not by Milly Dowler, by someone else.”