The phone hacking scandal that led to the closure of the News of the World (NotW) newspaper brought to the surface the real state of things within the British establishment. Three years later, verdicts have now been issued that have found Andy Coulson, former editor of NotW and former Director of Communications for David Cameron, guilty of conspiring to hack phones. Meanwhile Rebekah Brooks, former Chief Executive of News International, parent company of NotW, was found not guilty of all the charges against her.
As the cascade of disgusting revelations surrounding the phone hacking practices of NotW seeped into the press in 2011, the Murdoch owned newspaper fell over itself trying to find scapegoats onto whom it could offload the blame. At first two rogue reporters, Glenn Mulcaire and Clive Goodman, were identified as the source of the hacking. But it rapidly became clear that everyone - right to the top of NotW and, according to The Economist writing at the time, various other tabloid newspapers as well - was in on the practices of hacking phones, holding politicians to ransom and bribing the police. The result was the closure of NotW as a ceremonial sacrifice to try to stem the flow of scandal and exposure.
Andy Coulson, who has been found guilty of conspiring to hack phones, is the latest sacrifice to be made by the Murdoch cabal in an attempt to protect their interests, reputation and friends. Such was the public revulsion at the phone hacking scandal, which revealed that reporters had hacked the phone of murdered schoolgirl Milly Dowler, as well as those of veterans from Iraq and Afghanistan and their families, that a senior figure was required to fall on his sword in order to shield Murdoch and his friends in the British Establishment from further exposure.
Andy Coulson, after leaving NotW, took up a job as David Cameron’s Director of Communications, demonstrating to everyone the close links between the Murdoch empire and the corridors of power in Britain. This guilty verdict is another reminder of the criminality and corruption that sits at the heart of the British ruling class – very few people will believe that Cameron considered Coulson a paragon of virtue who had “turned over a new leaf” having left his dubious activity at NotW behind him. Most people will realise that Cameron knew full well what sort of man he was bringing into Downing Street, and that his willingness to find ways around the law, to threaten and to bribe, as well as his closeness to Murdoch, were precisely why Cameron hired Coulson in the first place.
Rotting from the head down
The acquittal of Rebekah Brooks of all the charges against her reeks of the Establishment protecting one of their own. Brooks has shared Christmas Dinner with David Cameron and his family, she has been Rupert Murdoch’s right hand for many years, and crucially she knows where the bodies are buried, so to speak. The idea that she, as Chief Executive, was unaware of the phone hacking practices that were rife at her own newspaper, is laughable. When coupled with the fact that she and Coulson had an affair and worked extremely closely, her defence of ignorance becomes absurd.
It would be naïve in the extreme to think that, because Brooks has been acquitted by a jury, this constitutes an impartial judgement that we can trust. Firstly, one of the charges of making corrupt payments never even reached the jury because the judge alone decided that he felt there was insufficient evidence for them to consider it.
Secondly, the jury in any criminal trial is only allowed to consider the evidence that is presented in the courtroom and any additional knowledge gleaned from elsewhere cannot be taken into account when deciding a verdict. It is significant that not a single journalist came forward to testify that Brooks knew about the phone hacking, whereas several journalists did claim that Coulson was aware of the practice. With the involvement of a man as powerful as Rupert Murdoch, whose presence would certainly have been felt at all times during this trial, it is not surprising that all the journalists who testified conveniently gave evidence that perfectly suited the Murdoch strategy of protecting Brooks and sacrificing Coulson.
Web of scandal
Thirdly, it should not be forgotten that this scandal did not simply engulf politicians and the press, but the police were heavily implicated as well. Senior police figures were accused of taking bribes from NotW, sitting on evidence from as early as 2002 to protect Coulson, Brooks and others, and deliberately stalling and bungling investigations into phone hacking allegations. It is this same institution, so mired in corruption, which has been compiling the evidence used to prosecute the case against Brooks and Coulson. It has been proved that for over a decade the police have been avid defenders of Murdoch interests, so why should we believe that in gathering evidence for this case, when the stakes are so high for Murdoch, that they will have acted any differently? This trial saw one set of criminals being prosecuted by another, with the gangster Murdoch pulling all the strings.
These verdicts simply demonstrate further the transparency of bourgeois justice as a tool to be manipulated by the ruling class in its own interests. It follows neatly on from the farcical situation that emerged during the Leveson Inquiry during which Rebekah Brooks was represented by a barrister from the Chambers of which David Cameron’s own brother is the Head.
Rebekah Brooks reportedly had a champagne-fuelled celebration of the verdict at her house after leaving court. But Murdoch himself may have to hold off on the celebrations. Murdoch is due to be interviewed by police, who are considering bringing a corporate charge against News International (now News UK) over the hacking. Typical of their policy of bending over backwards for Murdoch, the police agreed to wait until the Coulson/Brooks trial was over before pursuing the charge; but now that Murdoch has got his way and saved Brooks by sacrificing Coulson it seems likely that he will be able to wriggle out of a corporate charge against his company by placing all the blame on Coulson as an individual rather than on the company.
For public ownership and democratic, workers’ control of the media!
These verdicts are a reminder of everything that was highlighted in 2011 by this scandal: the depths of corruption, criminality and skulduggery to which the ruling class is willing to sink to maintain its power and its profit. Far from legitimising the police, press and politicians who were hit by the scandal in the first place, dragging Brooks and Coulson through the courts has simply served to draw the judicial system into the gutter along with all the other institutions of the Establishment in which many people are losing faith. The scandal was a blow to the legitimacy of the ruling class that cannot be repaired by the circus of a criminal trial – indeed it seems unlikely that it can be repaired at all.
Instead of posing for pictures with a copy of the Murdoch-owned Sun newspaper, Ed Miliband and the leaders of the labour movement should be demanding that the press be nationalised under the democratic control of the organised working class. This is the only way that we can get to the bottom of who is really responsible for the crimes of NotW and other papers. We are not satisfied leaving the investigations into this wrongdoing in the hands of police and politicians who have been working hand in glove with the press to cover up this activity for so long. We want workers’ control of the press so that it acts in the interests of the majority of people, not the interests of a handful of super-rich media barons.
The labour leaders must tap into the feeling of enormous anger and mistrust directed against the Establishment as a result of this and other scandals, and use it to build a movement for socialism that can sweep aside the rotten and corrupt ruling class in Britain and internationally.