On 30 June, I was demonstrating outside the Department of Culture Media and Sport offices, just off Trafalgar Square in London. There was a general feeling that it was only a matter of time before Jeremy Hunt MP would waive through the takeover of BSkyB by News Corporation and we were there to tell whoever wanted to listen that the revised terms for the deal were not worth the paper they were written on.
Just 14 days later the bid was withdrawn (13 July), the News of the World closed and journalists and production workers sacked in an attempt to Keep Rebekah Brooks in her job and purge News International of a contaminated product. As if liberated from a tyranny, parliament united in its condemnation of News International over their unethical journalistic operations and called for Murdoch to withdraw his bid for BSkyB, which he did just before the debate started. Since then it’s been downhill all the way for the Murdochs: Andy Coulson arrested and charged; Les Hilton CEO of Dow Jones and Rupert’s right-hand man at News Corporation in the US resigned in an attempt to limit the damage to Murdoch’s vast US media interests; and today Rebekah Brooks who resigned on Friday, was arrested ‘by appointment’ by the police in London earlier today. Further revelations include the details of close relationship between Prime Minister Cameron and News International, meeting Brooks five times in the past 14 months, two meetings with James Murdoch, and one with Rupert Murdoch shortly after he became prime minister in May.
On Tuesday, the day Brooks and the Murdochs are scheduled to appear before the Commons Culture select committee, the government will announce the terms of reference for the Leveson’s inquiry into the phone hacking scandal. It will have the power to call Prime Ministers past and present to give evidence, could open up a Pandora’s Box of examples where senior politicians have bowed to the hidden commercial agendas of media proprietors. But there are some serious questions to be asked about Lord Justice Leveson. The Lord Justice it appears was the trial judge who threatened to jail NUJ member and former Manchester Evening News crime reporter, Steve Panter, when he refused to give up the source of a story that Greater Manchester Police had identified a suspect for the Manchester bomb. Maybe he has moved on from those days. One hopes so!
Meanwhile what was not so well reported was the 24 hour strike by NUJ BBC journalists against compulsory redundancies, on the day Brooks resigned. It left the BBC without some of their well known reporters, Nick Robinson, Robert Peston and Laura Kuenssberg to name but three. BBC2’s Newsnight was off the air and BBC1’s Breakfast was replaced by a BBC News Channel item. There were picket lines outside BBC premises across the UK and they admitted that that there had been wide disruption to services. And the BBC management still refuses to involve the conciliation service ACAS to help it reach a settlement with the NUJ.
Now it’s the turn of the Met Police to feel the heat, and not before time!