As callous as it was unlawful

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 13 July, 2011, 12:00am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 13 July, 2011, 12:00am


The demise of Britain's muck-raking tabloid newspaper, the News of the World, over a mobile-phone-hacking scandal is part of a tsunami that now looms as the biggest threat the paper's owner, media tycoon Rupert Murdoch, has faced in a tumultuous career. As it bade goodbye to readers in its last edition on Sunday, the allegations that led to Murdoch ordering its closure had already transcended the paper and raised troubling questions about the methods his journalists used and the unhealthy relationships they cultivated with politicians and the police.

Celebrities, the royals and politicians have long been the fodder of the tabloids, titillating readers with a diet of scandal. Their no-holds- barred approach to digging dirt reached its climax with allegations last week that the News of the World was complicit in hacking the voicemails of a murdered girl, dead soldiers and the victims of subway bombings in London. If true, this is callous as well as unlawful. There should be a judicial inquiry and those responsible held to account.

Accountability does not end with reporters and editors, past or present. Politicians have long had overly cosy relationships with the media. Prime Minister David Cameron courted Murdoch during his election campaign last year. He is friends with Rebekah Brooks, the chief executive of Murdoch's British operations and a one-time editor of the News of the World. Another former editor, Andy Coulson, has been questioned by police; he resigned in January as Cameron's director of communications over the phone-hacking. The initial police investigation into reports of hacking was shoddy. The current one should be much more rigorous. Some officers seemingly have improper links with the media, and payments to officers are thought to be involved in the hacking case.

If the law is enforced without fear or favour, it will go a long way to restoring confidence in the media without impinging on the press freedoms crucial to an open society.