The relatively tiny band of journalists who have been hammering away at the News of the World's phone hacking scandal for the past six years must be rubbing their hands with glee this week as the Sunday tabloid closes its doors and its proprietor's bid for BSkyB sinks ever further into the quicksand of scandal and moral indignation.
On Monday the deputy PM Nick Clegg warned Murdoch to "do the decent thing" and rethink the $12 billion takeover bid, while the culture secretary Jeremy Hunt has referred the bid to the Competition Commission and asked Ofcom to examine whether News Corporation executives are "fit and proper" people to run the broadcaster (translation: help me out chaps - make this deal go the way of the dodo).
So what made these politicians – the same ones who were only too happy even a month ago to take News International's "a few bad apples" assurances – finally find their balls? Simple: public outrage. Or to be more specific, public outrage as filtered through the magnifying lense of journalists reporting on public outrage, which is quite a force to be reckoned with.
This story has been rumbling on for more than six years now, ever since Buckingham Palace called in Scotland Yard over suspicions that Prince William's voicemail had been tampered with. The News of the World's royal editor Clive Goodman and the private investigator Glenn Mulcaire were arrested and later jailed but still those with authority resolutely refused to take it seriously. Two police investigations found no evidence of further wrongdoing, as did two investigations by the Press Complaints Commission and – surprise! – internal inquiries by News International.
Cracks did start to appear early this year with continued allegations from people in the public eye and new evidence from former News International employees. But it wasn't really until last Monday, when The Guardian published the revelation that News of the World reporters had hacked the voicemail of the murdered schoolgirl Milly Dowler, and deleted messages when the mailbox became full, prompting her family to believe she was still alive, that the stuff really hit the fan. Finally, the affair hit the front pages and a serious police investigation began.
This whole affair stinks. Not just because thousands of people, including those in tragic circumstances, have had their personal lives intruded into. Or because some reporters and their bosses have been found to be a bunch of low-lifes (can anyone who has actually read the News of the World really be shocked that underhand tactics may have been used?). Or because a bunch of other journalists who had nothing to do with the behaviour of their predecessors have been fed to the lions.
No, it reeks because those in a position to do something about it have so absolutely and pathetically failed in their duties to hold the corrupt reporters, editors, private investigators and police officers to account. And because of what it reveals about the morally questionable relationships between the police, the media and the political world in this country. In short, nobody wanted to touch this in case it came back to bite their own organisation, political party or career on the bum.
It's all very well for the men in suits and police uniforms to beat their breasts now, and bleat about how the public will not be satisfied until those responsible are held to account, but we all know they're only doing something about it now because they have to. And when the appropriate heads have rolled and the whole thing has blown over, these same breast-beaters will still be falling over themselves for favourable coverage in whatever re-branded Sunday newspaper Murdoch decides to launch when the time is right. He might not get BSkyB but the media tycoon who is never knowingly outwitted will no doubt find other ways to make this scandal pay.
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