Metgate – time to open the doors and let the stink out
Brian Cathcart: Metgate - time to open the doors and let the stink out
17 Jan 11

The phone hacking scandal has entered a new phase and a number of very powerful people, up to and including David Cameron and Rupert Murdoch, should now be very worried. Glenn Mulcaire’s reported confirmation that a senior News of the World news editor, Ian Edmonson, commissioned him to hack phones elevates a nagging problem into a national political crisis.

The problem is most acute at the Murdoch press, which must now defend itself against the charge that its staff hacked phones with the blessing of management. It also has to explain why it has insisted for four years that the management didn’t even know. The senior executives who need to justify positions which they have previously adopted in public but which now look very dubious indeed include Les Hinton, now the CEO of Murdoch’s US press empire, Rebekah Brookes, chief executive of News International, Colin Myler, editor of the News of the World, and Tom Crone, News International’s legal affairs boss.

Of course Andy Coulson, the prime minister’s press adviser, is also in what we might call a delicate position, which means the David Cameron himself is tainted. Why did Cameron appoint this man, trust him and stand by him? It now looks like a gross and stubborn misjudgement by a man who is supposed to get things right.

Rupert and James Murdoch are in the same position. What did they know? Did they tolerate this? Are they responsible for creating the conditions in which it happened? Why were they not more energetic in pursuing the problem to its source, once it was exposed? Remember that James Murdoch is currently pressing to buy the big slice of BSkyB he doesn’t own. Is he fit to do that?

The Metropolitan Police Service, the largest and most important police force in the country, is dreadfully compromised. They said that this stopped with one man at the News of the World and refused to follow any further leads. For reasons unknown, they tiptoed around the paper’s newsroom. Senior detectives should now have to account for that. The Director of Public Prosecutions, too, has failed to cover himself in glory, having repeatedly endorsed the Met’s stance.

The mobile phone industry also needs to be challenged. How was Mulcaire able to get phone numbers and PINs so systematically? It beggars belief that he picked them up one at a time. Who helped him?

And finally, the rest of the national press is on the brink of disgrace. With few exceptions they have deliberately ignored and belittled a scandal which, if they cared about honest journalism, they would have investigated with passionate vigour. Why, for example, did the Daily Mail not report this story properly? Paul Dacre should have to answer that.

Forget the idea of a paltry evidence review by the Director of Public Prosecutions. As the New York Times implied months ago, this affair makes Britain look like Berlusconi’s Italy. Let’s demand a full public inquiry or a Royal Commission to open the doors and let the stink out.

Brian Cathcart teaches journalism at Kingston University London. Follown him on Twitter @BrianCathcart