Friday, July 15, 2011

Rebekah Brooks: The World's Most Famous Red Head?

Legend has it that red headed people have a reputation for being fiery, adventurous and unafraid.

They can also be bold and mischievous.

Judging by this picture we can also add occasionally scary to the list as well.

Well that's enough of the compliments because the woman who quite possibly holds the dubious honour of being the world's most famous red head title is now without a job having announced her resignation today at News International's Wapping HQ.

It is alleged that it was offered last week but only announced today after the Murdoch's bitter battle to keep hold of their own human shield floundered under a barrage of criticism from all sides of the political spectrum and public revulsion.

However the motive for accepting her resignation is unclear. Only last night News Corporation's second biggest shareholder, Prince Al-Waleed bin Talal Alsaud, being interviewed on Newsnight was adamant that if Brooks' involvement in the hacking scandal was proven then "for sure she has to go, you bet she has to go"; money has never been far from the Murdoch's heart when making decisions so this latest chapter in the story could have been the deal breaker for Brooks' future with the company.

In another extraordinary move, this time announced by James Murdoch, News International will be running full page adverts in the national press this weekend apologising for the phone hacking scandal.

"We will apologise to the nation for what has happened. We will follow this up in the future with communications about the actions we have taken to address the wrongdoing that occurred. We are also sending letters to our commercial partners with an update on the actions we are taking," he said.

We all know that times are hard in the newspaper industry and the money would be welcome but surely by doing business with the Murdoch empire and placing these adverts is it not a slight hypocrisy?

So all eyes will be on next Tuesday when the Culture Committee hearing begins and no doubt more revelations are brought out in the open in this extraordinary saga.

You can follow me on Twitter @mcollinsblog

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

The Revolution will not be Televised (At least not by Murdoch)

I've never been a big fan of mass demonstrations; they always seemed pointless and only served to inflame the situation and in truth push the goals they were hoping to achieve further away as politicians dug in their heels, too scared to be seen as weak and bow down to the demonstrators.

The sight of thousands of people waving Socialist Worker placards annoyed me as well. In truth the Socialist Worker seems to put its name to almost any demonstration in the hope that they will get onto the TV, but as the party has very little influence in the real world of politics in which we live, it all seems rather pointless.

Not that I'm saying socialism is dead or irrelevant, far from it, I just find that sometimes people attach themselves to causes for their own gain rather than that of the demonstrators.

So with that in mind and the recent demonstrations against the spending cuts fresh in the memory you could be forgiven for thinking that as the phone hacking scandal got into gear at the beginning of last week this would also blow over and eventually subside into a wave of public apathy; not a chance.

One key factor behind the huge upsurge in public opinion was how the scandal mutated from the hacking of celebrities and MP's phones, many of whom court the very people who were turning against them in their papers, to hacking phones of victims of some of the most high profile crimes over the past decade; these violations of privacy ignited an outcry of public revulsion to a level we may never see again.

And it was this outcry that gained momentum as revelation after revelation came to light and the public began to see the full extent of what NI was up too. This, it has to said, is almost solely down to the excellent investigative work carried out Nick Davies of the Guardian, the man who continued to pursue the hacking scandal when almost everyone else turned their back on it.

We rarely see in this country, with the exception of war, such a united front from politicians and the public alike; and even conflict is no guarantee of a united front as we have recently witnessed.

But Murdoch will not go quietly, however the difference is the sheer magnitude of opposition and the fact it is coming from all angles that will have both him and his team reeling.

Today The Sun carries the headline 'Brown Wrong' and counters Gordon Brown's accusations with their side of the story.

News International has bought back $5bn of its own shares to try and underpin the value; the share price has dropped 14% since the 4th of July.

And with the possibility that both Rupert and James Murdoch and Rebekah Brooks may appear in front of MP's at the Culture, Media & Sport Select Committee, we could be set for the most fascinating reality television show in years.

However the bad news keeps on piling and today Murdoch Sr will undoubtedly shudder at the news that US senator Jay Rockefeller has called for an investigation into whether reported hacking by News Corporation targeted any US citizens and has warned of "serious consequences" should that be found to be the case.

Even in his own country Murdoch is not safe as the Australian arm of Rupert Murdoch's media empire announced it is to investigate all payments made to contributors since 2008, as the fallout from the UK phone-hacking scandal continues to widen.

Parliament, which seems to have been given a new lease of life and relevance, now lines up as one voice in its attempts to rid the country of Murdoch's methods. MP's know they have been given a golden opportunity to gain back some of the credibility they destroyed during the expenses scandal and are seizing the chance to be seen as next in line to knock Murdoch.

But with Cameron claiming that the reforms and the public enquiries that will come into play over the next few months how much will the results of these impact on the day to day running of Parliament?

In the case of the expenses scandal it was simple; don't break the rules and stop claiming expenses you are not entitled too.

In the case of the phone hacking scandal not quite so clear.

Friendships have built up over years between MP's and the media, to expect these to cease and to expect MP's to live in a bubble insulated from the influence of media is impractical. To draw a line across which MP's cannot cross will be impossible to manage and perversely could result in Parliament becoming isolated from the real world and unable to communicate effectively with the public it is there to serve.

Cameron himself has fallen foul of friendships and loyalty already and this scandal is still only in its second week; although the Coulson question has been lingering for a lot longer.

Big business has been close to various MP's for years, with lobbying companies trying to influence decisions and certain board appointments seemingly based on an endless conveyor belt of accessibility to the very people we entrust to serve our interests; how can this be reigned in?

And who exactly is going to monitor how MP's interact with the media and what amount of influence is deemed too much?

Perhaps pre-judging what may or may not happen in the next few months is futile as the sheer pace and remit of these enquiries and the criminal investigations seem to change almost daily.

With over 3800 hacking cases yet to be investigated there are sure to be plenty of revelations still to be unearthed and many more shocking disclosures along the way.

We are in an age when 140 characters and a carefully crafted hashtag campaign can, in an instant, undermine a super injunction or falsely accuse someone of a crime they did not commit, such is the pace of today's world of media. And anything that is even slightly less than truth in this case will be surely be seized upon by Murdoch's legal team; one that includes Lord Macdonald QC who was DPP during the last hacking investigation in 2005-2006.

I think the history books will look back on this event and show what is possible if the collective will of the people is channeled in such a way that politicians of all parties cannot fail but to follow; after all we put them there in the first place to represent our interests, not theirs.

It should also show that journalism is a vital part of democracy and that people such as Nick Davies, and indeed the Guardian newspaper who support was key to the story maintaining relevance, should be held up as examples of how important they are in the defending our way of life and ensuring that there is always someone who is willing to take risks in exposing the truth.

And the result is in: Murdoch has withdrawn his bid for BskyB.

You can follow me on Twitter @mcollinsblog

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

News International: An Empire in Ruins?

They say a week in politics is a long time; perhaps that saying can now be changed to encompass the last week endured by News International, for it is undoubtedly running scared.

With each new day comes a new revelation, and like a particularly contagious virus, it is starting to spread across different areas of the corporation. And as it spreads deeper the aura of invincibility that once seemed to cover every corner of the empire is crumbling away, leaving behind the last bastions of resistance; Murdoch Sr, Murdoch Jr and Brooks.

Yesterday saw the beginnings of the accusations Gordon Brown levelled at the group, and today saw the culmination in those accusations leading to the front doors of both the Sun and Sunday Times. Citing that the group had links to the criminal underworld and gained access to his personal bank account and legal files is just another of what is becoming a procession of MP's coming out of the woodwork, free from the shackles of tabloid revenge and confident that they can speak without retribution against what was once a menace that hovered above Parliament like a hawk keeping watch on its prey.

Yet we still get replies such as this from a spokesman for News International: "We note the allegations made concerning the reporting of matters relating to Gordon Brown. So that we can investigate these matters further, we ask that all information concerning these allegations is provided to us."

Why are we standing by and giving NI employees the time to investigate and possibly cleanse the place of any incriminating evidence BEFORE the police step in? We've already read reports claiming that millions of internal e-mails and messages were deleted off machines at the offices of the NOTW so why not start to get tough and let the police get involved sooner?

Today also sees the turn of acting deputy Commissioner of the Metropolitan police John Yates, who's previous enquiry and conclusion into the phone hacking allegedly took just three hours, to face the Home Affairs Committee; that should be an interesting session.

This is a man who has united all parties in their condemnation of his conduct....

Lord Prescott said Yates should stand down.

In less than a day, in three hours he said [Yates] had reviewed it and there was no evidence whatsoever. There is no evidence whatsoever that was just a big lie. They made judgements about not pursuing criminal actions that had been conducted, that is in fact is enough to have seen them moved out of their jobs.

Yates is still there, when all this evidence is coming out by Commissioner Akers, it is totally unacceptable that he stays in that job. Can't he find gardening leave which they usually find in these situations until we have cleared all this up with a public inquiry.

Conservative MP George Eustice said Yates had some serious questions to answer.

Why with all these 11,000 pages of evidence, knowing as they did that it was quite widespread why they didn't do a more thorough investigation at the time ... [Yates] investigated the cash for peerages allegations thoroughly and without fear or favour. I think it does look like there has been a different approach on this particular instance.

The reach and pace with which this whole affair is moving is breathtaking, leaving almost everyone in its tracks as it progresses onwards without the barriers that would once try to hold it back.

And more bad news for's spreading to the US.

I think Jon Stewart's take on what is happening in this country perhaps best sums up how the Murdoch empire is crumbling into parody...

With the strong links NI has into the Republican party bound to be examined, class actions being taken by US shareholders who are disgruntled with the slide in value of their stock and Melanie Sloan Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington commenting 'if Mr Murdoch's employees can be so brazen as to target the British prime minister, then it is not unreasonable to believe they also might hack into the voicemails of American politicians and citizens' the very future of Murdoch's empire could be called into question.

And yet amongst all this we now see that the domain name has been transferred into the ownership of News International.

Do they really think people are going to have the desire and appetite to engage in another Murdoch backed travesty of a Sunday paper given all that is happening at the moment?

But against the backdrop of the utter carnage that is taking place in the media and despite universal condemnation, including calls from the parents of Milly Dowler for her to 'do the honourable thing' and quit, Rebekah Brooks is still the Chief Executive of News International.

You can follow me on Twitter @mcollinsblog

Friday, July 8, 2011

What price Rebekah Brooks?

When I wrote yesterday about whether the NOTW could survive or whether it may close given the public outcry over the phone hacking scandal as the extent to which this had spread into the lives of us all became apparent I was accused of being over-dramatic and also hamming the situation up and that inevitably it would all blow over....

In almost any other circumstance or situation it would have blown over and the headline writers would focus on the next scandal; but this is a News International scandal and if past performances were a guide to future outcomes it was never going to play by the rule book.

But this was no ordinary company closure and to cap it all and to end the most bizarre of days, the one and only Rebekah Brooks, to many one of the key players in the scandal, was the person charged with standing up in front of the staff and making the announcement that this Sunday's NOTW would be the last.

I think many of us would struggle to write a script with such imagination.

Whilst we can all focus on the corporate machinations surrounding the decision, the situation with the BSkyB bid and how much wrong has been done in the past by the paper, in the here and now 200 NOTW employees have lost their jobs as a result of the perceived failure of the board to handle certain key players in the whole sorry scandal.

And then there is the commercial motive behind the decision; advertisers were clambering for the exit as the brand value of the NOTW sank through the floor and any subsequent association with it quickly became a poisoned chalice.

What must sadden people who are or have been associated with the paper though must be both the pace of its demise and that many of the good things the paper has achieved over the years will be lost as it becomes consigned to the history books.

When the newspaper 'Today', Britain's first colour newspaper and also part of the News International group, ceased production in 1995 it went with a whimper and in truth many people didn't even notice, such was its lack of influence and impact on the world of news at the time.

But this is different, love it or hate it, the NOTW did have an impact on British news and culture.

Its many campaigns, such as the one supporting Sarah's Law, were responsible for helping shape the law in this country and protect parents with young children by giving them access to the sex offenders register.

Although not without controversy, the Fake Sheikh, the undercover reporter whose exploits are said to have brought over 250 criminals to justice as well as exposing the odd England football manager along the way, are further examples of some of the good the paper did.

But all of this will be washed away as the headline writers will focus only on the key movers and shakers in the scandal, some if which seem determined to back each other to hilt.

Watching the statement made by James Murdoch defending Rebekah Brooks will I'm sure, make people wonder what exactly she has to do that will be considered morally and ethically wrong in the eyes of the company.

Many questions remain unanswered and just how deep the public enquiry will go to find answers is going to be interesting as many stakeholders in this scandal are yet to be named, exposed and shoved into the media spotlight.

Some comment that this is a victory for the British public however I think this is incorrect; the NOTW was the most read of all the Sunday papers and continued to entertain and brighten up many peoples Sundays right up to the very end.

The controversies were always there ,as were the court cases and the salacious scandals that would rock the celebrity or political world to its core for a few days; and then it was business as usual and people moved on.

But the depth to which the main players in the phone hacking scandal sank significantly up the stakes and it is apparent that the British public cannot move on from this; understandably so.

At this moment in time the only winner appears to be Rebekah Brooks because, at least on the surface, she has managed to preside over the closure of 168 years of newspaper history and deprive 200 people of a job; that is quite some sacrificial lamb and whether it was worth it only time will tell.

As for the future of the NOTW, well I believe there will be a time when new owners and a new attitude can prevail and hopefully it can return to the stands in the not too distant future.

However if NI think the Sun on Sunday or whatever else they plan to replace it with will work I would suggest they think again as guilt by association is difficult to shake and anything with an NI stamp of ownership on it is going to become something of a pariah as this scandal rolls on.

You can follow me on Twitter @mcollinsblog

Thursday, July 7, 2011


As News of the World's current editor Colin Myler told his colleagues that they would have to "atone for the wrongdoing that took place in the past" all around him could be seen to be crumbling as public anger coupled with the spectre of advertisers deserting the paper took a grip on Sunday's most popular newspaper.

Of course, apoligising for past indiscretions is nothing new for the paper, but it is the speed and the undoubtedly decisive actions taken by brands such as Ford, Vauxhall, Co-op and Proctor & Gamble, just some of the names withdrawing their adverts, that will shake not only the NOTW but also News International to the core.

The recent apologies for hacking the phones of such celebrities as Sienna Miller was greeted with apathy and even the promise of £20m of compensation set aside to deal with the issue seemed to do little to assuage the anger of those whose privacy was so callously disregarded in the papers pursuit of a good story.

Doubtless those in and around the NOTW at the time were able to breathe a slight sigh of relief though because despite the high profile coverage and the widespread condemnation of the whole hacking affair, up until then it was primarily focusing on celebrities, and as such, public condemnation was limited; and there was certainly no advertiser revolt as we have now.

Then super injunctions came full swing into public view culminating with Andrew Marr making a pubic apology citing an error of judgement about his own super injunction that prevented the press from reporting on his affair.

With the exposure of Ryan Giggs' own super injunction through a combination of an Twitter extensive campaign and the MP John Hemming, the spotlight seemed to have turned full swing back in the favour of the press, who were now seen as the guardians of free speech fighting against corporations and individuals keen to suppress anything that may cause them public embarrassment. Perhaps the sight of a Fred Goodwin on a list of those obtaining a super injunction helped fan the flames of public anger towards these new weapons against free speech.

But once again public sentiment towards the press, and in particular the NOTW, has turned full circle as a series of crippling revelations hit the headlines this week concerning the alleged hacking of phones during the Milly Dowler and Soham murder investigations.

At the centre of these investigations is Glenn Mulcaire, a private detective formerly employed by the NOTW, a man who was jailed for his part in the royal aides' hacking scandal that also saw NOTW royal correspondent Clive Goodman jailed and the then editor Andy Coulson resign, saying that he took responsibility for the scandal.

Of course Andy Coulson went on to become Cameron's own spin doctor, a position he subsequently resigned earlier this year due to further implications over the scandal encompassing the paper.

But that was in 2007, fast forward to today and Rebekah Brooks, editor of the NOTW at the time of the investigation in 2002, refuses to acknowledge that she had any idea that Glenn Mulcaire was hacking into Milly Dowler's phone and therefore has no intention of resining her position of Chief Executive in the UK for News International.

Along with the the two high profile murder investigations, both of which the NOTW was selling their own papers through high profile exclusives and campaigns to help find the victims, other allegations are seeping into the public domain.

We can now add relatives and victims of the 7/7 bombings and families who have lost loved ones in the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq to the ever growing list of people who have possibly been affected by this scandal, and I wouldn't be surprised if this list continues to grow.

And the revelations don't end there; Lord Macdonald QC has been joined News International as a legal adviser on the case. Lord Macdonald QC was head of the CPS (Crown Prosecution Service) during the investigation in 2005-2006.

Rebekah Brooks is to oversea the internal investigation into phone hacking at the NOTW; Peta Buscombe the head of the PCC, the press watchdog has attacked this 'extraordinary decision' by Ruprt Murdoch and went on to comment that 'in any other business that would not be allowed to happen'

And with almost every new hour another company or charity pulls out of advertising or supporting the paper. Perhaps this is the real issue for Murdoch though, with the loss of accounts like Ford costing the paper circa £4m in annual revenue there is the real possibility that the paper will be bereft of any major adverts as it goes to press this weekend.

The Royal British Legion has announced it will be dropping its NOTW campaign in the light of revelations this week and Npower are also dropping their advertising in the paper, joining an ever growing list of companies turning their back on the paper.

So is this the end for the paper? Well the court of public opinion is the most relevant barometer and looking around the blogs, Twitter posts and editorial, the mood is one of complete disgust and shows little sign of abating.

The key difference between the current wave of anger and what went before has been the fact that this latest wave of allegations centres around cases and people who were ordinary members of the public and were victims of crime; something that could happen to any one of us.

In the case of Milly Dowler and the Soham Murders, very high profile cases that struck right at the heart of family life in Britain. So whilst we may not be able to relate to a celebrity or a member of the royal family, we can all relate to those parents and what suffering they had to endure during those terrible days; to find out a paper we once thought was there trying to help the enquiries was actually hacking into their phones and profiting from the resultant information is truly abhorrent to us all, and that is the key difference.

So as politicians line up to take on the once feared Murdoch empire, something that was almost unthinkable a few years ago, and allegation after allegation continue to surface, each one carrying their own legacy of victims stories and as the spotlight falls on Scotland Yard to ensure that this investigation finally unveils the whole truth of the scandal, one question remains unanswered; can the NOTW survive?

I've asked a couple of questions in a poll and the results of which I want to post to the NOTW so please feel free to stop by and vote.