Having been dragged in front of politicians to show contrition, forced to close his most cherished newspaper title and having filed for divorce amid frenzied online speculation (unrepeatable here due to Britain’s antiquated libel laws), the decline of Rupert Murdoch, in the UK at least, has been pronounced over the past few years.
Yet the 82-year-old, who almost single-handedly reinvigorated Britain’s newspaper industry during the ‘70s, and whose power gained such heights in the '80s and '90s that a nod of support could almost guarantee a party government, looks certain to sink even further with the start of this week's legal recourse over the phone hacking scandal.
The trial, which starts today, sees six former employees, including two former editors face a raft of charges including unlawfully intercepting communications (tapping phones), misconduct in a public office (paying police for stories) and perverting the course of justice (hiding evidence following arrest).
It has been a bad few years in Britain for the media baron
One former editor, Rebekah Brooks, was so close to the proprietor that the Murdoch considered her part of the family’s inner circle; after news of the hacking scandal broke, Murdoch’s immediate response was to "look after this one", nodding to Brooks at his side.
Media interest in the trial will be febrile, though Britain’s contempt laws will mean that the 70 accredited reporters allowed into the courtroom will only be able to document evidence presented at the Old Bailey. The state’s inability to stop the millions on Twitter and Facebook commenting and circulating rumour and conjecture is a conundrum that lawmakers have yet to solve.
Yet the trial will be far from simply a spectacle with the real possibility of prison-time should anyone be found guilty. Raj Chada, a London-based criminal lawyer for HJA, suggests that generally speaking, with these types of charges, a guilty verdict would likely lead to custody.
On intercepting communications and perverting the course of justice, Chada said: “The court would consider the length of the conspiracy, the defendants’ role in it (did they instigate the conspiracy?), and any attempts to cover it up and if this affected police operations.”
In regards misconduct in a public office, the lawyer added: “Courts would take into account the affect that this has had on the public in terms of distrust.”
For context, politicians Jonathan Aitken and Chris Huhne both served time in prison for perverting the course of justice. As such, a person convicted of multiple offences “would be looking at prison for a few years,” Chada told the HuffPost.
The there’s the potential for huge embarrassment not only to Murdoch, but the British political establishment and the police, with the trial likely to document the awkward and all-too-cosy details of the ménage a trios.
As former Murdoch executive Ken Chandler pointed out to NPR, "I believe that the role of the newspaper is to be a watchdog and to be critical of what the government and politicians are doing… It's very hard to perform that role if you're socializing the way that they were with the prime minister and other politicians."
There are the huge financial ramifications of the scandal with Tom Mockridge, the former head of News Corp's British newspaper division, telling a meeting (in audio obtained by Exari News) that News Corp could face costs of £1billion.
"There's a shitload of just financial expense… across the civil cases," said Mockridge. "The hacking probably, by the time it's all over, is going to cost News Corp minimum of £500 million, if not a billion."
All this amounts to a very uncomfortable few months for not only those charged, but for Downing Street and Scotland Yard. How Murdoch will come out in all this is anyone's guess, but whatever the outcome, it will have capped a disastrous period for the News International boss, his company and many of their now former employees.
Here are the main players heading to the Old Bailey: