A little like Rupert Murdoch.
There is (as yet) no evidence at all that he was personally aware or had sanctioned any illegality in the acquisition of information. But the assumption of guilt is evident, so much so that he appears to be failing the ‘fit and proper persons’ test for the takeover of BSkyB.
The man has a papal knighthood, for Pete's sake: he is an esteemed member of the Pontifical Order of St Gregory the Great. If Rupert Murdoch is not ‘fit and proper’ to run BSkyB, why was he ever ‘fit and proper’ to be so honoured by the Pope, let alone run The Times, The Sunday Times, The Sun and The News of the World? And who, in any case, presumes to be ‘fit and proper’ to appoint those who are ‘fit and proper’ to determine the fitness and properness of those who can own the media?
His Grace asks because he got into a slight Twitter spat with Alastair Campbell a few days ago. Mr Campbell tweeted that the Mail Group was by far the worst offender when it came to using illegal methods to get a headline. His Grace thought that libellous, and said so. Mr Campbell courteously tweeted the response that his source was the Information Commissioner, and so His Grace foraged around to uncover the reports (here and here), and duly apologised to Mr Campbell for ever doubting his honesty and integrity. The reports are illuminating:
The Daily Mail comes out top of the league table, with a colossal 952 incidents of illegal activity executed by 58 different journalists. When you add these to the infringements of its sister paper The Mail on Sunday, we get a collective guilt of 1218 illicit dealings in personal data by 91 separate journalists belonging to the Mail Group.
Alastair Campbell is right: ‘When it comes to the trade in illegally obtained information, the Mail Group is worst.’
These statistics dwarf the crimes and misdemeanours of the News of the World, which in 2006 had a recorded 182 incidents by 19 journalists. Doubtless the past five years have seen a steady increase in these illicit dealings, but, pace News International, with total impunity.
Lord Ashcroft’s own analysis is equally illuminating. He observes:
My real sadness is that this both reports should have received such scant reporting from the press. It is understandable, perhaps, that few people would wish to stand up and be counted given what we all know goes on and to which so many blind eyes are turned. But ‘What price privacy?’ and ‘What price privacy now?’ should have featured large in the open debate as to what is truly acceptable in the pursuit of the public interest as opposed to what is acceptable in satisfying the prurient interest of the public.For those who know how these things work (‘dark forces’ and all that), it is perhaps unsurprising that the press didn’t report any of this at the time, even though Lord Ashcroft clearly discloses that the illegal activities of 305 journalists may jeopardise national security and involve members of the Royal Household.
Only yesterday did that concerning revelation get the headlines it merited.
News International is clearly guilty of abusing trust, breaching data protection legislation, and compromising the journalistic standards as set out by the PCC. According to the Information Commissioner, this has been known for some time. But the unrelenting condemnation of NI titles, and the blackening of Murdoch’s name – and his alone – rather suggest another agenda on the part of those who stand to gain from the demise of Rupert Murdoch and the fall of his media empire.
Why is Paul Dacre still considered a ‘fit and proper’ person to run The Daily Mail? Is he really unaware that 58 of his journalists are implicated in criminal activity?
If there is to be a full judge-led inquiry into phone-hacking, please do not let it stop with Andy Coulson and Rebekah Brooks. And neither should we seek to scapegoat James or Rupert Murdoch. The Information Commissioner and Lord Ashcroft have made it known that the contagion is far more widely spread, and so the sins of hundreds of journalists and their editors and proprietors must also come under very close scrutiny. As Disraeli once observed: ‘The world is governed by very different personages from what is imagined by those who are not behind the scenes.’
He obviously knew.