News of the World: A Dynasty in Peril
News of the World, the 168 year-old best-selling weekly British tabloid, shut down on July 10th, 2011 after it came to light that the tabloid hacked murdered British schoolgirl Milly Dowler's voicemail, in addition to that of other various British celebrities and public figures. Though media mogul Rupert Murdoch's son James shut down News of the World, numerous editors came under fire and resigned, and former employees have been arrested. Yet that News of the World regularly used phone hacking to gather information is not a new revelation. Hundreds of people, including the Royal Family, were victims of the News of the World hackings. Had Scotland Yard zealously investigated the incident from the beginning, protecting privacy and charging the guilty culprits, perhaps this and similar incidents could have been avoided.
Below is a visual graphic, as well as an in-depth analysis, that chronicles the unfolding of events that led up to the ultimate demise of News of the World. After its 168-year run, the publication accused of various accounts of breach of privacy has finally come to an end. Even after the publication's death, events and trials continue to unfold. Only time will tell what will ultimately become of Rupert Murdoch, News Corporation, and the journalists and reporters involved in this case.
I. A Storied History of Hackings
After Prince Harry visited a strip club and The Sun ran an article titled "Harry Buried Face in Margo's Mega-Boobs. Stripper Jiggled . . . Prince Giggled," the News of the World ran an article quoting his brother William ribbing him about it. The quotes were, word for word, from a voicemail William had left Harry. The police scrutinized private investigator Glenn Mulcaire, and in 2006 seized thousands of cell phone numbers, ninety-one phone PIN codes, three names of News of the World journalists, and 30 tape recordings from him. It became apparent that News of the World reporters had hacked messages from celebrities and politicians from 2003 to 2007, throughout the editorship of Rupert Murdoch's close friend Rebekah Brooks.
Scotland Yard did not inform potential victims whose numbers they had collected, focusing instead on the Royal family. Nor did police reveal to prosecutors the broad scope of the hacking. According to John Whittingdale, chairman of a parliamentary committee that investigated the hackings, "There was simply no enthusiasm among Scotland Yard to go beyond the cases involving Mulcaire..." In interviews with the New York Times, investigators posited that Scotland Yard was disinclined to investigate because of its relationship with News of the World.
Scotland Yard pledged it would alert everyone in the files. They didn't, instead notifying just a few of the hundreds whose messages may have been hacked. This shielded News of the World from lawsuits and prosecution; in order to charge the publication, potential victims needed confirmation their name or number were in the evidence. Had Scotland Yard fulfilled their pledge and been more ardent in their investigations and prosecutions, justice could have been served, privacy protected, and the police could have established a deterrent to reporters considering hacking voice mails. Perhaps the Dowler case could have been prevented.
II. Legal Complications and Prosecutions
Whether News of the World can be prosecuted is now a discussion topic in the United States. Recently, Attorney General Eric S. Holder Jr. noted that the Justice Department will investigate whether News of the World violated the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act. The Act makes it illegal for American companies to bribe foreign officials, and since News of the World is incorporated in Delaware, the law could be leveraged to build a case against News of the World for bribing Scotland Yard officials. In addition, as the law requires publicly traded companies to maintain accurate books and records, if News Corporation fudged their books to cover bribes, they could be further at risk of prosecution.
III. Rupert Murdoch and Privacy
Rupert Murdoch is the chairman and CEO of News Corporation; the owner of Twentieth Century Fox, Fox News, and the Wall Street Journal; the holder of a 39.1 stake in BSkyB; and the proprietor of three British newspapers. He has weathered problems before, leveraging his relationships with former Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher in the 80s and other relationships to become an American citizen to expand his U.S. holdings. However, News of the World has been shut down, he has been dragged before Parliament to defend himself, and he was recently "humbled to give a full and sincere apology to the Dowler family." Could this be his Waterloo?
In a 1928 Supreme Court case dealing with federal wiretapping, Justice Louis Brandeis called privacy "the most comprehensive of rights, and the right most valued by a free people." That Murdoch's influence, power, and empire could crumble over this incident speaks volumes about how instinctively we should, and do, cherish privacy.
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