Darkening Sky for Murdoch

The UK’s newspaper phone hacking scandal has spluttered volcanically to life with disclosures, hints and whispers that it is all about much more than eavesdropping celebrities. The story is now washing across a large number of politicians  (including then Prime Minister  Tony Blair) and other public figures and involves an alarming range of criminal activities, including data theft. It may also involve newspaper-hired ‘investigators’ with serious criminal backgrounds.

The spiralling story must be spoiling the sleep variously of former News of the World editors Andy Coulson (ex David Cameron media adviser) and Rebekah Wade (now News Corp’s UK boss),  James and Rupert Murdoch, and investors who are now alarmed about the prospect of some legal actions being mounted in the US with the consequent threat of huge damages and risks to Fox broadcasting licences. The noise is getting louder.

A smoking gun?

London’s Metropolitan Police are being inundated with stories of  wider criminal activity by journalists. Stories persist of the smoking gun that will cause mayhem among News Corp management. London is awash with gossip (presumably some of it eavesdropped) about journalists searching for journalists before filing stories not with their newspapers but with the police at Scotland Yard.

The increasingly complex investigation into crimes that, ultimately, will have courts hearing that London’s police themselves had, to say the least, been less than vigilant when it came to investigating pervasive criminal activity by journalists, especially those of News Corp, with whom some officers have had a cosy ‘reciprocal’ relationship.

For News Corp and the Murdoch family, this truly is becoming a horror story that is thought likely, eventually, to result in more than £100m of  corporate damages and fines. A run of substantial out of court settlements has proved insufficient to stop the tide of claims and now impending prosecutions. Any proof of a cover up by senior News Corp executives could multiply the financial risk – and potentially cause a corporate earthquake. The high drama is being played out at the same time as the UK government is wrestling with the controversial, impending decision to waive through News Corp’s proposed takeover of pay TV monolith BskyB.

That protracted decision has depended on would-be guarantees (still being hammered out) by News Corp. to safeguard the independence of the highly-rated Sky News channel. This is deeply ironic: current Sky News coverage of the latest developments in the phone hacking case has had more than a whiff of bias, managing to linger not on the deepening legal mire into which the News of the World et al is sinking, but, breathlessly, on the “possibility” that many other newspapers may be drawn into the snowballing police enquiries. Some independence to preserve.

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