The Leveson enquiry: a storm in a media teacup?

May 15, 2012

In the UK, there could be a gigantic political scandal unfolding involving the Prime Minister, the Chancellor of the Exchequer, Rupert Murdoch, and a considerable number of their colleagues and close personal friends

On the other hand…

On the other hand, much of what is being reported may amount to a gigantic storm in a media teacup, amounting to little more than evidence of powerful people behaving with illusions of omniscience.

The tantalising question is whether we are witnessing an important series of events in political history in the UK in the early decades of the 21st century. Or not.

Timeline

Leaders we deserve reported on the breaking news stories emerging from the Leveson enquiry [in an earlier post April 23rd – May 10th, 2012].

May 28th Tony Blair’s testimony

Tony Blair’s involvement with the media was explored chronologically. He gave his expected well-prepared presentation. The self- image which ran through his book [reviewed among other places in Leaders we deserve] hardly appeaared to have changed.

His emphasis on power and power-relationships came through as he portrayed his own belefs that as prime Minister he sought to “manage not take on” the media. He drew parallels with [Labour] Union power. Of interest, he considered the owener of media to be less important than their appropriate managemment.

A brief moment of dramaas a protester burst into the room (ca 11.30 am) hurling “War criminal” accusation at T.B., before being hustled away

May 24th

Another week of compelling winesses. Yesterday Jeremy Paxman whose evidence suggested malpractice from the Mirror group. Today, Adam Smith whose evidence adds to the pressure on Culture and Media Secretary Jeremy Hunt as his special advisor in the ‘quasi-judicial role played by Hunt in the BSkyB case.

May 18th

Six children killed in a house fire. Is the case one for the Leveson enquiry? The deaths of six children in Derbyshire may be as relevant to the Leveson enquiry as that of the hacking of the voice mail of murdered teenager Millie Dowler.

The father of the children, Mick Philpott, acquired notoriety in a media campaign five years ago as “a benefits scrounger” who was reported as asking for a larger house to accommodate his extended family and more of his seventeen children.

May 15th 2012

Breaking news: Rebekah Brooks is charged for offenses relating to phone-hacking. The issue is said to be one ‘hanging over the government’ until the next election.

Lord Levinson announces intention to ‘say something significant on recent events’ at 2pm local time.

Levinson statement [2pm May 15th 2012]

Lord L had prepared an extended statement. He indicated yesterday [and earlier] that his remit was to explore evidence of Government/Press relations. In his statement, he reviewed various events which indicated the focus of his concern. These reprised his need to operate in a strictly neutral fashion, when there were political issues being considered by Parliament.

In this respect, he quoted extensively from Hansard [the official political record] on questions relating to the enquiry, and specifically the issue of making information requested from it available to Parliament, including a ruling from speaker John Berkow.

His statement also focused on the ‘leaking’ of information to News International. The statement implied that he would have to consider excluding from the enquiry any areas which he considered risked its independence and fairness.

It appears that there are ‘hard to resolve’ issues [dilemmas] here. The politicians are using the information leaked as part of a campaign attacking Jeremy Hunt through his disgraced special advisor Adam Smith. Lord Leveson is concerned about the fairness of the enquiry being placed at risk by politicised debate in Parliament.

May 15th 2012

Levison’s statement of May 15th in seen by The Telegraph as ‘defending the enquiry’

New York Times outlines prosecution of Rebekah Brooks as the most recent and easiest of charges of concealing evidence. More charges may follow which will embroil prominent politicians.

May 14th 2012

The Guardian newspaper was described last week by former Sun editor Rebekah Brooks, as a leading member of the ‘anti-Sky coalition’. The newspaper continues its reporting with an article drawing attention to the Chancellor’s involvement with Sky International executives at the time of the Government’s investigations of the proposed takeover of BSkyB by News International.

To be continued

This post will be updated regularly until further notice.


A horse, a horse my kingdom for a horse even if it’s a retired hack from the police service

March 3, 2012

A highly-charged symbolic story has emerged around David Cameron’s ride on retired police horse Raisa. Headline writers demonstrate their creativity

The New York Times captured the symbolic dimension to the story neatly:

Prime Minister David Cameron’s ride on a retired police horse in the Oxfordshire countryside appears, for now at least, to lack the elements of a full-blown scandal. But as political symbols go, the horse and its links to the tabloid newspaper scandal roiling the country seems likely to become, at the least, rich fodder for political satirists and cartoonists. In Brussels on Friday [March 2nd 2012], Mr Cameron was peppered with as many questions about Raisa, the horse, as about Britain’s refusal to sign on to a new treaty.

Henry 5th and all that

It set me wondering about the potency of horses in narrative. Where better to start than Shakespeare? The hero king Henry 5th and the villain Richard 3rd are tales retold as great movies with the monarchs and their nags as the stars.

Horsegate

The story seems to have attracted the press after initial press statements had appeared to be unconvincing denials of a matter of fact, namely that the Prime Minister had ridden on a horse pensioned off from the police service and placed in the care of horse trainer Charlie Brooks. Mr Brooks is the husband of Rebekah Brooks, who is involved in the hacking stories at News International. Both are close friends of David Cameron , as is a senior policeman who may have helped in the arrangement to pension off Raisa, the nag at the centre of the story.

Beyond the rational

At a rational level, some kind of plausible explanation can be constructed. On the other hand, you might think that on a rational level there doesn’t seem much point in such an exercise. It will take a lot of effort to find serious wrong-doing. The potential of the story lies in the symbolism of a cosy group of wealthy friends using friendship to get further unpaid privileges.

Symbolism and leadership

It is a case of symbolic leadership, as portrayed, say, by Sir Lawrence Olivier mounted on his horse before the battle of Agincourt. It might also be seen as more a narrative interpretation of leadership. The symbolism is of Mr Cameron enjoying himself with his friends through privileged access to the aging Raisa. Faint echoes of Animal farm also seep into mind.

What the papers said

The whole episode offered creative opportunities for headline writers. The mirror went for losing the reins I did horse around with Sun’s old nag. The Telegraph offered
Horsegate: the PM will forever be saddled with Raisa‎. The Guardian went for the old cliche of closing the stable door

To be continued


Murdoch Meltdown

July 17, 2011

Elisabeth Murdoch and father Rupert

In three turbulent weeks in July 2011, Rupert Murdoch faced a complete meltdown of his global corporation News Corp. The crisis has a timeline which can be traced to the imprisonment in 2004 of a few ‘rogue’ journalists in one newspaper, the News of the World. This spread to allegations of a culture of corruption and phone hacking at the NOTW, and its closure. The story continued to spread with political fallout reaching the wider global corporation

We concentrate on the turbulent weeks at the start of July 2011, after briefly reviewing the wider timeline of events.

BBC Timeline

The BBC gave a good summary of the timeline of events from 2000 to July 20th 2011. although for whatever reason, overlooked the dimension of police corruption which is also to be found within the story. The Timeline It begins with the appointment of Rebekah Wade (later Rebekah Brooks) as editor of News of the World in May 2000, and ends with her resignation as Chief Executive of News International, July 15th 2011

Resignation of a News Corp executive fuels the wider story

Within hours of Rebekah Brooks tendering her resignation as head of News International, her predecessor Les Hinton, one of Rupert Murdoch’s closest lieutenants in the United States, fell on his sword, saying that the pain his reporters had inflicted on innocent people was “unimaginable”. Mr Hinton has been the publisher of The Wall Street Journal since Mr Murdoch bought it in 2007 and his continuing presence was threatening to drag the media mogul’s prize US newspaper asset into the scandal.

Two symbolic events

Two events received particular media attention. They were presented as reflecting a callous culture, which ignored the impact of behaviours on members of the public who were already victims of tragic events. Each story involved journalists who had targeted families of victims of highly emotive tragedies. In the UK, the definitive episode involved tampering with the mobile of the murdered teenager Millie Dowler which may have given false hope to the family. Rupert Murdoch was to meet and apologise personally.

In the USA, allegations developed of hacking of phones of families of victims of the 9/11 World Trade Center bombings.

An unfinished case

This post ends [17th July 2011] at the start of a week which promises more in the unfinished drama surrounding Rupert Murdoch and the business empire he founded. One interesting theme is being reported concerning his daughter Elisabeth, on whom it is reported he is now pinning his hopes to take the dynasty forward. This is certainly consistent with a story that has cropped up from time to time within biographic accounts.


News of the World killed off. But who is the prime suspect?

July 8, 2011

The News of the World met a violent and unsuspected death in July 2011. A long list of suspects has been drawn up. Collusion between some of them can not be ruled out

In the early evening of July 7th 2011, Former Editor of The News of the World Rebekah Brooks, and now CEO of the holding group News International, addresses the staff of the NOTW and drops a bombshell. The paper is to end publication after next Sunday’s edition. It is believed that the unsuspecting Editor Colin Myer learned of the decision a few minutes earlier.

The NOTW was in serious trouble over a crisis which had strengthened in intensity over a period of days. But the speculation had concentrated on actions that had taken place when Ms Brooks was editor. The issue seemed to be more on whether Ms Brooks would be held responsible, and therefore would lose her job.

Background

The story had begun to dominate the headlines in the UK for some days. It was summed up in one executive briefing as follows:

It has long been public knowledge that NOTW journalists (and more recently “investigators” acting on their behalf so as to distance the journalists and the paper itself) have had a cosy relationship with certain police officers – a relationship that often crossed over into bribery for tips and other information. It is the brutal release of this information to the wider public and the raising of the matter in Parliament that has at last blown the lid off the NOTW.
The newspaper has been embroiled in a scandal over the hacking into mobile phones and that, too, reached a new level of disgrace when it was revealed this week that the paper’s agents had (allegedly) listened into the calls, and read SMSs, of victims of the London terrorist attacks on 7 July 2007 and to the messages of murdered teenagers.

David Cameron and his chums

The current story has embroiled Prime Minister Cameron who is a close friend on Ms Brooks, and who had also hired another former editor Andy Coulson as his Press Officer on coming to power in 2010. Coulson later resigned for his involvement in some of the phone-tapping allegations.

The sins of the fathers

The announcement may be seen as a case of the sins of the fathers visited on the children. The paper’s current editor and staff claim to have cleaned of the previous culture within the paper.

The major allegations against the paper refer to events that occurred under an earlier regime. These implicated among others Rebekah Brooks and another editor Andy Coulson.

The usual suspects

If the News of the World was killed off, the list of suspects is a long one.

[1] The dynastic founder Rupert Murdoch. Rupert founded News Corp, the global media corporation. A simple view of business leadership would place him as the tycoon at the top of a pyramid with ultimate control over every big decision. His direct influence on political leaders is well-recorded. His capacity to act decisively to innovate and change, and confront potential threats is the stuff of legends. A fall-back plan which would create a new paper is rumoured.

[2] James Murdoch. James, son of Rupert is ascending to his dynastic destiny, and has recently been appointed Chairman of News International, one of News Corps major divisions. Currently embroiled in another battle which would see Sky taken over by News Corp.

[3] Rebekah Brooks currently cast as one of the villains of the piece, for her public escape from blame, and for the endorsements from her Chairman James. But it is the even more evident positive light in which she is held by Rupert which is commonly reported as providing her with job security. Rebekah is a larger-than-life celebrity figure who seems to have collected a lot of enemies as she had progressed in the Murdoch Empire

[4] The Guardian and its editor Alan Rusbridger for campaigning until the story of the NOTW’s assorted practices went viral. Rebekah Brooks is reported to have tearfully told the NOTW staff to ‘blame the Guardian’ for the paper’s demise.

[5] Twitter, Face Book and the Blogosphere
The story trended on Twitter and there will be those who will claim the ‘victory’ for the power of social media damaging the powerful in ways that were not possible a few years ago.

[6] The advertisers who announced plans to withdraw support from the NOTW

Distributed Leadership?

We should not look too hard for a prime suspect in this case. There is no single ‘cause’. Nor is it clear whether there was a single leader of a cabal to bring down the paper. The notion of distributed leadership seems worth considering.

Update

The Mail, in its own inimitable style recounts the 168 year old history of the News of the World.