Thursday, 6 January 2011

Media outside the law

THERE is nothing new about national news organisations working beyond the law.
When I was a reporter on Fleet Street in the 1980s news rooms routinely had clandestine copies of what were known as reverse directories.
These were compiled for telephone companies to trace faults quickly. They were listed by addresses, with the names and numbers of every household and company phone identifyable by address, and listed alphabetically by streets.
They were strictly controlled, but newspapers got hold of them by bribing telephone engineers and they were hugely useful.
If an incident happened at an address, reporters could look up the addresses nearby and then phone the people who lived there to get eye-witness accounts.
This was in direct contravention of telecommunications legislation. But who was going to know?
The new technology opens up all sorts of potential transgressions of the law as demonstrated by the News of the World mobile phone tapping saga, which just won’t go away despite former Editor Andy Coulson’s resignation in the wake of jailings three years ago.
It has now been revealed that one of their senior executives has been suspended over phone hacking claims involving the actress Sienna Miller.
News of the World executive Ian Edmondson was suspended after the new claims emerged.
A document lodged in the High Court links Edmondson with the interception of voicemail messages from the phones of Miller and Jude Law.
Solicitor Mark Thomson has said paperwork and other records seized by police from private investigator Glenn Mulcaire implied Edmondson was linked to the hacking.
Mulcaire and former News of the World reporter Clive Goodman were jailed at the Old Bailey in January 2007 after they admitted intercepting messages.
A News of the World spokeswoman said: 'A serious allegation has been made about the conduct of a member of the News of the World staff. We have followed our internal procedures and we can confirm that this person was suspended from active duties just before Christmas. The News of the World has a zero tolerance approach to any wrong-doing.'
Miller is suing the News of the World's parent company, News Group, and Mulcaire, accusing them of breaching her privacy and of harassment.
This is highly embarrassing to the newspaper world in general and Rupert Murdoch’s empire in particular. The fact that Mr Coulson now works for the Conservative hierarchy as a communications director adds spice.
If he didn’t know that intercepted mobile phone calls were the source and justification for running news stories, then he wasn’t much of an Editor. How else could their veracity be ensured?

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