Wednesday 16 November 2011

UK press in dock over phone-hacking, lawyer says


Britain's entire press stands in the dock at an inquiry into media standards, said a lawyer representing victims of press intrusion and phone-hacking by Rupert Murdoch's News of the World. David Sherborne, who is representing 51 "core participants" at an inquiry set up as the hacking scandal engulfed News Corp's British arm, said Wednesday that "tawdry" tabloids were guilty of blackmail, bribery and vilification. He said his clients had endured lies, harassment and other "despicable" actions from the press and that phone-hacking might only be the tip of the iceberg. "It is the whole of the press, and in particular the tabloid section of it, which we say stands in the dock," he said. "It is time we had change and by that I mean real change." The Leveson inquiry, due to last a year, will make recommendations which could have a huge impact on the industry and lead to tighter regulation and, at the least, an overhaul of the current system of self-regulation. Lawyers for Britain's major newspaper groups have already pleaded for the essence of that system to remain and said that if anything, the press needed more freedoms. But in a scathing and detailed attack on newspapers, particularly the notoriously aggressive tabloid press, Sherborne said: "We are here not just because of the shameful revelations which have come out of the hacking scandal, but also because there has been a serious breakdown of trust in the important relationship between the press and the public." "The press is a powerful body. They have a common interest and a self-serving agenda," he told the inquiry. Sherborne said revelations that a private detective, jailed for phone-hacking in 2007 along with the News of the World's former royal reporter, had carried out more than 2,000 tasks for the paper suggested that there were about 10 stories in the tabloid every week from the illegal practice. He listed details of some of those who had been targeted, starting with the parents of Milly Dowler, a missing schoolgirl who was later found murdered. It was the revelation that her phone had been hacked while she was missing that changed attitudes to the issue. Within days, News Corp withdrew its bid to buy the 61 percent of broadcaster BSkyB it did not already own and its British newspaper arm News International closed down the 168-year-old News of the World. It also prompted Prime Minister David Cameron to order the inquiry.