Saturday 20 August 2011

Three More Arrests in Murdoch Paper Phone Hacking Scandal

Three more arrests were made in connection with the phone hacking scandal that came to light on July 4, when the Guardian reported that staff from the News of the World tabloid, which is owned by Rupert Murdoch’s News Corporation, had hacked into the voicemails of a murdered 13-year-old school girl, Milly Dowler. One of the three arrested this week was former News of the World Los Angeles editor James Desborough — a sign that, as Emily Bell writes in the Guardian, it’s possible that phone hacking has occurred in the US.

Desborough was the 13th to be arrested in the scandal; he has been charged with “suspicion of conspiring to intercept communications, contrary to section 1 (1) of the Criminal Law Act 1977.” On Friday, an unnamed detective with London’s Metropolitan Police was arrested on suspicion of leaking details about the phone hacking investigation by Scotland Yard. The Guardian also reported that a 35-year-old man was arrested on suspicion of phone hacking. Sky News reports that the man is former News of the World reported Dale Evans, who was suspended by the paper over a year ago after he was named in a civil case against News Group Newspapers (a subsidiary of News International), brought by interior designer Kelly Hoppen.

In a further development, private investigator Glenn Mulcaire has been ordered by a court to reveal who directed him to hack into the phones of model Elle Macpherson and five other public figures including the deputy leader of the Liberal Democrats, Simon Hughes; Mulcaire is to provide the information by the end of next week. He has also sued News of the World publisher News International, to force the company to pay his legal bills. While News International had announced on July 20 that it was no longer paying his legal bills, earlier this week the company was revealed to have paid “approximately £246,000″ (about $405,000) to lawyers acting for Mulcaire, according to evidence provided on Tuesday by James Murdoch, chief of News International, to the parliamentary culture select committee.

According to Emily Bell, the phone hacking scandal will only explode in the US as it has in the UK if “a human story or dynamite revelation of the magnitude of a US Milly Dowler” emerges. So far, there is no sign of such happening. But Bell suggests that some other signs suggest that Murdoch is losing his grip on US media, albeit in a more gradual way than in the UK:

Fox News is still the US’s number one cable network but in July it was the only network which actually lost viewers over 2010. It’s triumvirate of rightists, Bill O’Reilly, Sean Hannity and Greta Van Susteren, all saw declines and the furthest right commentator, Glenn Beck, has gone from the schedules.

This is symptomatic of another reason why Murdoch is in trouble. Fox News practically invented the Tea Party, and therefore to some extent is to blame for the political eccentricities list of GOP candidates now scrapping to take on Obama and the fracturing at the heart of the Republican party. Fox’s own tone has been back-pedaling from its more extreme positions, but the CEOs and the GOP grandees who would naturally be Murdoch’s constituency are no longer in thrall to his power in quite the same way.

It seems hard to imagine, but is it possible to imagine a Fox News -less media landscape?