The Thick of It

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Wednesday, July 06, 2011

Hacking: implications for Cameron

The ever more sickening News International phone hacking scandal is bringing several media regulatory and political issues to a head.

The government says it wants to reduce media regulation by abolishing or drastically cutting back Ofcom but at the same time is planning a raft of additional rules for advertising. This inconsistency shows that the government hasn't thought its proposals through, like much of the plans they have rowed back on in the face of opposition. Critically, can we really afford to cut back on regulation further when the phone hacking scandal shows us that self regulation of the press has failed so spectacularly?

The LSE's Damian Tambini suggests we need to go further. Many people will now agree. The only way big media owners follow is if there is insurmountable political and public pressure on them to accept this.

Labour can ratchet up the pressure on the Tories to announce a full public enquiry out of which a more robust regulatory regime needs to emergy. Labour has little to lose in attacking what has happened because it has almost no support at News International at present. I'd love to hear what Ed Miliband's press chief Tom Baldwain, ex of The Times, has to say about this. At the moment there is no evidence to suggest that hacking was happening organisation wide, rather than just at one NI title.

Six months ago when Andy Coulson quit, after a sustained drip feed of suggestins that he knew more than he admitted to about this, serious questions have been raised about David Cameron's judgement in appointing the News of the World's former editor.

If a journalist comes to the editor of a newspaper with a new, exclusive story the first question their boss will ask is "what is your evidence?" I can't believe that Coulson and Rebekah Brooks didn't know about this. How else will they have been able to explain the source of exclusive after exclusive to their legal team?

If we assume they did know then Cameron should have been aware too. He must have done some sort of due diligence on Coulson before appointing him and should have been aware that doing so opened him up to risks of association. If he didn't do his research, why not? Either way, his judgement has been shown to be poor.

I suspect Cameron was too desperate to gain a poll lead to worry about this. It is unlikely he was aware how sickeningly deep this scandal actually went. Coulson's tabloid friendly leadership helped to get the Tories into power, even though it wasn't enough to win them the election.

Cameron is deeply implicated in this. He can wriggle his way out by announcing a full public enquiry and putting a stop to a culture of self regulation, collusion and acceptance of dreadful malpractice.He might not because to do so would mean an admittance of the scale of the problem, that he is himself implicated in.

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