Murdoch scandal latest: Met Chief quits and Brooks arrested

Empowerment 2

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Chris Gaynor

Two top dogs in the British establishment have been pushed or jumped: Met Police chief Sir Paul Stephenson - after admitting to getting a free trip to a health spa worth £12,000 - and News International CEO Rebekah Brooks who was later arrested.

The UK's top cop said the reason for his resignation today was because he felt that, with the London 2012 Olympic Games looming, he shouldn't be a media distraction from police work up to that major global event. Sir Paul said he would stay on as Met chief until his successor is appointed by the Home Secretary and London Mayor Boris Johnson.

The PM David Cameron accepted Sir Paul's resignation and also commented that he would have accepted Brook's resignation when she first offered it to her bosses Rupert and James Murdoch but they said no.

Keith Vaz MP, chair of the British parliment's influential Home Affairs Select Committee, said that Sir Paul, who is due to appear before it on Tuesday, was "a man of integrity", and had shown leadership by taking responsibility and resigning.

Vaz paid tribute to Sir Paul's work lowering crime in the capital. London Mayor, Johnson, meanwhile, made an unfortunate slip of the tongue on Sky News, saying he was "glad" err, "I mean sad" that the Commissioner had been forced to quit. 

Is there going to be a third resignation in the next few hours? Assistant Commissioner John Yates, who has admitted to bungling the first phone hacking inquiry three years ago, is still in post. And, no British politician has paid with their job. The whole hacking scandal is as gripping as any Hollywood blockbuster DVD you could get your hands on at the moment.

From the journalistic establishment, the ex-News International CEO Rebekah Brooks has been arrested on suspicion of corruption and conspiracy to hack into mobile phones to obtain information, it was reported, on Sunday afternoon. Brooks was editor of the now closed News of the World when the mobile phone of school girl Mill Dowler was hacked and messages deleted by a private investigator working for her paper.

The ex-favoured employee of Rupert Murdoch had a "pre arranged meeting" with the police, at around midday on Sunday, a somewhat unusual timing, considering she is due to face a committee of MPs on Tuesday. This appearance could now be jeopardised by the arrest and some commentators are questioning whether that was the aim to prevent Brooks revealing names of friends in high places.

In a statement put out by Brooks' PR team, they said that this surprise arrest had put her in a difficult position. Questions have been raised about whether Murdock is paying for her PR and legal teams.

Brooks had hung on to her coveted CEO job for more than a week after the revelation that outraged the public that Dowler's phone had been tapped.

Critics of the arrest today lined up to claim that the "timing stunk", including the lawyer representing the Dowler family, Mark Lewis.

MPs, who are to quiz the former News International employee alongside the Murdochs, are left in limbo wondering whether they will be able to have their moment in the spotlight with Rebekah Brooks on Tuesday afternoon.

MP Therese Coffey, a media committee member, told Sky News that there was a 25 per cent chance that Brooks would turn up. If she was charged, and let out on police bail, which has happened to none of the eight ex-News of the World news executives so far, then it would be unlikely that she would appear to be questioned by MPs.

The hearing on Tuesday billed as a popcorn event also featuring media mogul Rupert Murdoch and his News International boss son James, may end up as a damp squib.

Shadow Culture Secretary Ivan Lewis is demanding that the Home Secretary Theresa May turn up to parliament on Monday to make a statement on allegations involving the Met police, which it is believed she plans to do. Lewis also said that David Cameron faces tough questions regarding what he was told by his ex-Director of Communications and ex-News of the World editor Andy Coulson.

Labour's leader Ed Miliband has called for Murdoch's stake in British journalism to be slashed dramatcially in light of all the allegations floating around in the media. Big hitting Lib-Dem MPs, including deputy leader Simon Hughes, have called on broadcasting regulator Ofcom to rule that Murdoch is not a "fit and proper" person to hold a stake in BSKyB. Murdoch has 39 per of the powerful broadcaster's shares.

It was inevitable that Brooks, the News International executive most valued by Murdoch, who treated her like a daughter, stepped down. She was spared a week ago when more than 200 staff lost their jobs on the News of the World.

Rupert Murdoch said sorry to the Milly Dowler family in central London, their lawyer reported  on Friday. He also placed full-page advertisements in every national newspaper on Saturday and Sunday to apologise to the public.

This is a momentous period in journalistic history. This is the equivalent of the momentous day when Nick Clegg and David Cameron teamed up in Downing Street to go into coalition government together.

As they both said in their pre-election blurbs that, "a new politics was possible," and now's the time for the media to have a fresh spray of new scent on an old worn out entity. Newspapers don't make money. Sure, they educate, inform, entertain (to a degree - unless it's the pathetic gossip tittle tattle of the cheap tabloids, but in general newspapers don't make money.

You could even say this week has been more momentous than when the MPs expenses scandal broke. The fact is, we all knew MPs were fiddling to some extent, but it was never revealed how much. Just with journalists, there is always a fine line between public interest right to know, and the invasion of privacy. In this case, the hacks that were involved, crossed the line.

The hackgate scandal continues to come up with new revelations every hour, every day. Reports from across the pond claim the FBI will investigate journalistic practices at News Corporation, whose Chairman is Rupert Murdoch. 

Now that Brooks has gone, she will no doubt find it easier to speak out against her former employees. This is Murdoch's extraordinary apology, headlined: "We are sorry."

It went on:

The News of the World was in the business of holding others to account.
It failed when it came to itself.

We are sorry for the serious wrongdoing that occurred.

We are deeply sorry for the hurt suffered by the individuals affected.

We regret not acting faster to sort things out.

I realise that simply apologising is not enough.

Our business was founded on the idea that a free and open press should be
a positive force in society. We need to live up to this.

In the coming days, as we take further concrete steps to resolve these issues and make amends for the damage they have caused, you will hear more from us."


Rupert Murdoch

The huge question now on everybody's lips is what now for the future of newspapers in the UK (especially those run by Murdoch?) Will Murdoch sell off his News International business, which does in fact lose money and battle ahead to take full charge of BSkyB (which as a business model will make much better sense. And Murdoch knew this? Or, does he keep it on for nostalgic reasons?

One thing that I have always found with the media, is that like the legal system and to some extent politics in this country, it is very backward at going forward. News organisations only latched on to the power of social media just over two years ago. In fact, blogging at that time was laughed at by the journalistic classes, and now as one veteran hack said on a news channel, "we all have to blog nowadays."

The question to ask is that those who think that the Press Complaints Commission should have statutory regulation are quite right to some degree. Ofcom has no problem with regulating broadcasting. So why can't we have some kind of body spin off like OfNews? Independent regulation, if that is the route people decide, should be able to speak out, to coin a phrase from the Miliband bandwagon machine, "without fear or favour".

I personally would prefer statutory regulation but with a caveat that stories should be given details of where they've been sourced, and logs of where or how the interview was done. Only transparancy in the media, just like with the MPs can mean people will begin to trust the people we trust to speak up for the masses.

After all, hacks are, to some extent, public servants, "servants of the people," and not self-satisfying grease monkeys (slightly-built burglars with entry skills) who are just interested in climbing a tree of fame and fortune.

To coin a phrase by the ex-British prime minister Blair: "A new dawn has broken, has it not?"

Or, as deputy prime minister Nick Clegg once said: "Evolution, not revolution?"

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