The news that British tabloid journalists may have hacked the phones of relatives of victims of terrorist attacks and the families of murdered children has met with revulsion in the media, in parliament and among the general public.
Accusations that the News of the World, Britain’s most popular Sunday newspaper, had tapped the phones of royals, politicians and celebrities date back years and have prompted concern and raised eyebrows, but little more. The suggestion that journalists might have targeted grieving parents has crossed the line in terms of what is acceptable and what the British are prepared to tolerate.
Politicians from the left, right and centre are united in calling for heads to roll. Prime Minister David Cameron said the hacking, if proven to be true, are “a truly dreadful act in a truly dreadful situation.” He is echoed by his deputy Nick Clegg (“beneath contempt…grotesque,” he said) and by the opposition leader Ed Miliband, whose words included “truly immoral…sick.”
The public, fascinated and horrified with tabloid journalism in equal measure, is also baying for blood. The NOTW faces a boycott by readers and advertisers and the real threat to its continued existence. Car-maker Ford, energy company npower and telecoms giants T-Mobile and Orange are reviewing their advertising deals with the tabloid. If they decide to pull their full page adverts, each worth tens of thousands of euros, the sales team of News International, the parent group of the NOTW, may need miracles to replace them. When the next edition of the tabloid is published on Sunday, there will be plenty of attention focussed on how many people actually buy it. Symbolic burnings are not out of the question. Already, ‘Boycott the News of the World’ groups are multiplying on facebook and other social networks.
Newspaper editors and journalists, perhaps fearful of being bracketed with bankers and and greedy MPs, are (almost) unanimous in their no-holds-barred criticism of the NOTW and the woman who ran it at the time of the alleged hacking, Rebekah Brooks. The Telegraph’s Cristina Odone claims the whole episode has made her “ashamed to be a journalist.” A Financial Times editorial lays the blame for what it calls a “fundamental lack of human decency” at the door of Rupert Murdoch, the head of News International who saw enough talent in Rebekah Brooks to promote her to the post of chief executive of the company. The Financial Times is joined by the rest of the non-Murdoch press in calling for his attempted take-over of broadcaster BSkyB to be reviewed. How, they argue, can Murdoch be allowed to increase what is already a stranglehold on the British media amid these allegations?
As for the Murdoch press itself, there are interesting choices to be made in editorial meetings. Top-selling daily The Sun for example, the sister paper of the NOTW, was one of the few not to put the hacking scandal on its front page, instead offering Brook’s “sickened” reaction on page six.