By: THE FINANCIAL TIMES LTD
Recent days have prompted a positive tsunami of fresh claims in the phone-hacking scandal that has engulfed Rupert Murdoch’s UK newspaper operations. There have been allegations of illegal behaviour involving senior newspaper executives, police officers and even the prime minister’s own former media adviser.
In the face of this wave of accusations David Cameron, the prime minister, probably had no choice but to concede the establishment of public inquiries to examine both the conduct of the media in illegally intercepting mobile phone messages and also that of the police in investigating this activity. While the precise remit and timing of the inquiries has yet to be fully determined, this is surely the correct decision.
ON THIS STORY
There can be no doubt about the seriousness of the charges being levelled at News Corp’s UK subsidiary. We now know that these go way beyond hacking. They include allegations of institutionalised criminality that must be publicly aired.
There is also a crying need for a proper investigation into the role of the police. It is clear that officers failed to pursue investigations into hacking in spite of having ample evidence at their disposal. The fact that so many allegations are now tumbling out speaks volumes about past inertia. Whether this was the result of a corrupt relationship between the police and News Corp, or a cultural disinclination to take hacking seriously, is something the investigation should determine.
There must be no more prevarication. These inquiries should be set up as fast as possible without jeopardising criminal investigations. That said, no amount of dispatch can deliver answers fast enough to sway a decision on News Corp’s bid for the UK broadcaster BSkyB – a deal that would further strengthen Mr Murdoch’s hold on the British media.
There is understandable disquiet about letting such a transaction through while so many questions are unanswered. The most satisfactory outcome would be for it to be parked while inquiries continue.
The government still has the chance to refer the bid to the competition commission. True, such a step could be legally challenged by Mr Murdoch as he has agreed legal undertakings with the culture secretary, Jeremy Hunt, designed to preclude such an outcome. But given the level of public concern and the remaining unanswered questions, few outside Wapping would blame Mr Hunt for raising the bar higher.