Rupert Murdoch Called To Testify Over News Corp Reporters Hacking Cellphones
Tom Watson, a Labour member of Parliament, says Murdoch must explain to the UK House of Commons about journalists illegally hacking into people’s phones. The Commons has approved an inquiry into phone hacking, to investigate whether MPs have been targeted by newspapers – in particular the Murdoch-owned News of the World, a weekly tabloid owned by his company. MPs have moved the matter to the Standards and Privileges Committee, due to meet on Tuesday.
The British media has been boiling for the past few days over the phone hacking story. Two News of the World reporters were sent to jail for illegally listening to mobile phone calls. But its former editor Andy Coulson – now Prime Minister David Cameron’s communications head – denied knowing anything about it when he was at News Corp. An editor not knowing what his reporters were up to raised a lot of eyebrows here. The Labour Opposition is piling on the pressure, hoping to force Coulson out and inflict damage on the government.
Now Watson says Rupert Murdoch should be asked to explain the actions of reporters and editors at the News of the World. Watson said:
Normally these Parliamentary committees are pretty toothless affairs. People are invited to give evidence but it’s not compulsory. They’re also normally pretty toothless – I should know, I was summonsed to give evidence to one back in 2003. But the Standards and Privileges Committee has greater power of summons than other committees.
Watson told Parliament:
The News of the World said that “amidst a swirl of untethered allegations” it will investigate any allegation of wrongdoing when presented with evidence. “We have a zero-tolerance approach to wrongdoing,” the paper said.
The Independent got their hands on the private "Blue Book" of Steve Whittamore, a private detective who did contract work for Rupert Murdoch's British papers until his house was raided in 2003. The document, which the government had refused to release, is basically a history of three years of Whittamore's work digging up legal and illegal information on politicians, athletes (one target was referred to just by last name: "Rooney"), and other celebrities. It adds a new element of detail to the News of the World phone-hacking scandal.
While some of the requests were legal, the Independent estimates that about at least a quarter of services described on the itemized were illegal:
Activity that definitely broke the law included tracing people using just a telephone number or vehicle registration, accessing ex-directory telephone numbers, obtaining details of hotel stays and running criminal records checks. Around half of the tasks covered finding out the full addresses of targets, which is illegal if the people involved have chosen to remove themselves from the public register.
Andy Coulson, the editor of News of the World at the time of the Whittamore raid, has claimed that any crimes were isolated and unrelated to the broader newsroom culture. He is now Prime Minister David Cameron's top communications aide, and new details revealing that reporters were snooping on Labour Party politicians have raised the political stakes of the scandal.
The Independent claims that Rebekah Brooks, the editor of News of the World before Coulson, was one of the journalists who contracted with Whittamore, but it's unclear what she requested. (Brooks now runs News International.) It's also unclear whether reporters from the Sun and the Times, other Murdoch papers listed in the spreadsheet, asked for anything that Whittamore obtained through illegal means.
The secret dossier of lawbreaking that spells trouble for Rupert Murdoch ... and David Cameron [Independent UK]