Analysis of the News of the World Case
The News of the World was one of the big selling newspapers in UK. It was also one of the old newspapers sold in million copies in UK from 1843 to 2011. Owned by the well-reputed media firm News Limited in which Rupert Murdoch, the famous Media tycoon of America, was a managing director, the News of the World was mostly famous for publishing celebrity oriented scandals and populist scoops. Over the years, the newspaper exposed many national as well as local celebrities' sinful sexual acts, drug abuse, and criminal activities by setting up journalists in various disguises to ferret out both photographic and video evidence and hacking phones. It was in 2006 that the newspaper encountered a barrage of allegations related to phone hacking. It was claimed that the newspaper hacked the phones of several business personalities, politicians, celebrities, well-known public figures, members of the British Royal Family among others. This paper will discuss upon the issue in detail analyzing how News of the World came to its demise because of its illegal activity of hacking into the personal phones of many people to seek out inside information and the legal issues involved with it.
It was in 2005 that an article published in the News of the World revealed the details of a meeting between Prince William and Tom Bradby, ITV royal correspondent even before the meeting took place. When Prince William and Bradby finally met, they tried to figure out how the information about a potential meeting that was only known by two of them got leaked. Prince William also showed concerns as how recently his appointment with a knee surgeon got leaked too. During the discussion, they realized that such personal information could only get leaked if their phones were being hacked and their voicemails intercepted. Following an investigation, it was discovered that the voicemails of Prince William's aides were hacked into, leading to a leakage. Subsequently, the royal editor of News of the World, Clive Goodman and Glenn Mulcaire, a private investigator were convicted of the offense and imprisoned. During the court proceedings, it was revealed that besides Prince William, they also hacked into the phones of other well-known public figures including supermodel Elle Macpherson, MP Simon Hughes, publicist Max Clifford, football agent Skylet Andrew and the Professional Footballers' Association's Gordon Taylor (BBC News#1, 2007). Andy Coulson, the then editor of the News of the World soon resigned taking responsibility for everything that happened.
Though apparently the case appeared resolved with the imprisonment of Glenn Mulcaire and Clive Goodman and the resignation of Andy Coulson, but subsequent investigations by police, newspaper and parliament showed evidence of a large scale phone hacking. The Guardian newspaper came up with the report that confidential settlement through the payment of up to £1m was made with three people whose phones had been hacked to wrap up the case. In 2010, a series of renewed investigation took place and it was discovered that the News of the World targeted over 4,000 people for hacking phones (BBC News#3, 2012). Besides celebrities and politicians, the newspaper hacked the phones of the relatives of dead British soldiers, victims of the 7/7 London bombings and the murdered schoolgirl Milly Dowler whose abduction and killing shocked the nation in 2002. The revelation created a national public outcry against Rupert Murdoch and News Corporation, resulting in the closure of the News of the World in 2011 (BBC News#2, 2013).
Legal Issues Involved with Phone Hacking
Phone hacking is a criminal offense and those involved in phone hacking may either receive a fine or/and imprisonment. Furthermore, the victims of phone hacking are allowed to sue the perpetrators of phone hacking for damages. Section 1 of the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act 2000 (RIPA) considers intentional interception of communications carried out over a public telecommunication system a felony unless there is a legal reason for investigators of Security Services and Police to conduct the operation (The Drum, 2011). Section 3 of RIPA also allows the victims of phone hacking to sue the culprits in the Civil Courts. The Data Protection Act 1998 permits the prosecution of hackers for criminal activities including unlawful way of obtaining, disclosing and procuring personal information under section 55 (The Drum, 2011). Besides RIPA and DPA, charges could be brought against the culprits of phone hacking for the violation of right to privacy.
Privacy law in UK is a mix of an individual's right to privacy as mentioned in Article 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights and the Press, freedom of expression as mentioned in the Article 10 of the same convention and the law of confidentiality (The Drum, 2011). The question that needs to be addressed by the court of justice is whether a person's right to privacy would get precedence over the freedom of expression by the Press. The News of the World case also has raised some moral and ethical issues related to the practice of journalism, especially in the matter of voicemail interception of the deceased girl Milly Dowler. After the disappearance of Milly Dowler when her family and friends were frantically sending voice messages to her phone, the unlawful interception and further deletion of important voice messages ruined potential evidence that could have given the police officials a lead to her murderer. Furthermore, the suffering of Milly's parents who got a false hope that Milly was still alive due to the interception and deletion of the voicemails left in her mobile cannot be ignored. Besides, hacking into personal phones of people and disclosing information without their knowledge and consent is a completely unethical act that, if practiced by any newspaper intentionally, is worthy of severe punishment because the journalists and media persons in their bid to compete for gaining higher circulation of their news copies subject their victims to untold mental anguish and suffering.
The News of the World which was a big selling newspaper in UK came to its demise following the disclosure of its unethical practice of hacking into the phones of celebrities, politicians, well-known public figures, family members of the dead British soldiers, 7/7 Londom bombing victims and the murdered school girl Milly Dowler. Back in 2006, following a publication about Prince Williams' meeting with Tom Bradby it was first discovered that the voicemails of royal aides were intercepted to obtain personal information related to Prince Williams' whereabouts. Though the case was apparently solved after the royal editor of the newspaper Clive Goodman and a private investigator called Glenn Mulcaire were convicted and imprisoned due to their involvement in the phone hacking of Prince Williams' aides, renewed investigation took place a few years later following a subsequent revelation of evidence as regards a large scale operation of phone hacking by the News of the World involving more than 4,000 victims. Phone hacking is a criminal offense deserving of punishment either by fine or imprisonment or both as per the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act 2000 which also allows the victims of phone hacking to sue the culprits for damages. Besides, phone hacking violates an individual's right to privacy and right to confidentiality. When established newspapers and media tycoon like Murdoch indulge in such unethical practice like hacking for the sake of gaining a higher circulation of their news copies, exemplary punishment should be meted out to deter such crimes in future.
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BBC News#2: Phone-hacking scandal: Timeline. 2013. BBC News. Viewed on 14th November 2013 <http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-14124020>
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The Legal and Moral Issues Surrounding Phone Hacking by News of the World. 2011. The Drum. Viewed on 14th November 2013 <http://www.thedrum.com/news/2011/07/06/legal-and-moral-issues-surrounding-phone-hacking-news-world>
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Deans, Jason. 2013. Surrey Police Contact with News of the World over Milly Dowler – Timeline. The Guardian. Viewed on 14th November 2013 <http://www.theguardian.com/media/2013/apr/24/surrey-police-news-of-the-world-milly-dowler>