Thursday 7 July 2011

Rusbridger: 'How Nick Davies burst the NoW dam' The investigation that closed a rogue newspaper

Great tribute by Guardian editor-in-chief Alan Rusbridger on Comment is Free today to Nick Davies' dogged work in uncovering the News of the World phone hacking scandal, which came before the shock news that News International will close the title after this Sunday (see NI statement below).

Rusbridger notes: "Sometimes the forward momentum of newspaper investigations is virtually invisible to the naked eye. It's lucky that Nick Davies is an exceptionally patient reporter because there must have been times during the past two years when he felt no one wanted to hear what he was so clearly saying.

"Nick's first story on the full extent of the phone-hacking scandal was published almost exactly two years ago – on 8 July 2009. It was – or should have been – explosive. It reported that a major global media company - News International - had paid out £1m secretly to settle legal cases which revealed criminality within their business.

"With any non-media company this revelation would have led to blanket coverage, calls for resignations, immediate action by the regulator etc. Instead there was a kind of ghostly silence."

Rusbridger adds: "And so we settled in for the long haul. Week by week, story by story, column by column, doorstep by doorstep, Nick Davies prised open the truth.

"There were some other heroes: a handful of lawyers and MPs and a few journalists – on the New York Times, Independent, FT, BBC and Channel 4.

"But it was pretty lonely work for those at the heart of it. And there were plenty of people yawning from the sidelines, claiming it was all a bit obsessive. But investigative journalism is a bit obsessive. Sometimes it works by small, incremental, barely perceptible steps.

"Scroll forward two years and the full truth of what was going on at the News of the World is dramatically being stripped bare. Some kind of mental dam has been broken. MPs, journalists, regulators and police are speaking confidently again as they should. The palpably intimidating spectre of an apparently untouchable media player has been burst."

NI statement to staff on NoW closure: News International today announces that this Sunday, 10 July 2011, will be the last issue of the News of the World.

Making the announcement to staff, James Murdoch, Deputy Chief Operating Officer, News Corporation, and Chairman, News International said: “I have important things to say about the News of the World and the steps we are taking to address the very serious problems that have occurred. It is only right that you as colleagues at News International are first to hear what I have to say and that you hear it directly from me. So thank you very much for coming here and listening.

"You do not need to be told that The News of the World is 168 years old. That it is read by more people than any other English language newspaper. That it has enjoyed support from Britain’s largest advertisers. And that it has a proud history of fighting crime, exposing wrong-doing and regularly setting the news agenda for the nation.

"When I tell people why I am proud to be part of News Corporation, I say that ourcommitment to journalism and a free press is one of the things that sets us apart. Your work is a credit to this.The good things the News of the World does, however, have been sullied by behaviour thatwas wrong. Indeed, if recent allegations are true, it was inhuman and has no place in our Company.The News of the World is in the business of holding others to account. But it failed when it came to itself."

He added: "In 2006, the police focused their investigations on two men. Both went to jail. But the News of the World and News International failed to get to the bottom of repeated wrong doing that occurred without conscience or legitimate purpose.Wrongdoers turned a good newsroom bad and this was not fully understood or adequately pursued.

"As a result, the News of the World and News International wrongly maintained that these issues were confined to one reporter. We now have voluntarily given evidence to the police that I believe will prove that this was untrue and those who acted wrongly will have to face the consequences."

He also admitted: "This was not the only fault. The paper made statements to Parliament without being in the full possession of the facts.This was wrong."

Murdoch added: "The Company paid out-of-court settlements approved by me. I now know that I did not have a complete picture when I did so. This was wrong and is a matter of serious regret.

"Currently, there are two major and ongoing police investigations. We are cooperating fully and actively with both. You know that it was News International who voluntarily brought evidence that led to opening Operation Weeting and Operation Elveden. This full cooperation will continue until the Police’s work is done.

"We have also admitted liability in civil cases. Already, we have settled a number of prominent cases and set up a Compensation Scheme, with cases to be adjudicated by former High Court judge Sir Charles Gray. Apologising and making amends is the right thing to do."

There is speculation that we will see a Sun on Sunday emerge from the ashes of the News of the World.

NUJ condemns closure of the News of the World

NUJ General Secretary Michelle Stanistreet said “This shows the depths to which Rupert Murdoch and his lieutenants at News International are prepared to stoop. The announcement James Murdoch should be making today is the dismissal of Rebekah Brookes as chief executive of News International.

"The shocking revelations this week show beyond doubt the systemic abuse and corruption at the top of the operation ran by both Rebekah Brooks and Andy Coulson. Yet News International has persistently lied about the extent of this scandal and tried to pass it off as a problem created by a couple of rogue reporters.

“Closing the title and sacking over 200 staff in the UK and Ireland, and putting scores more freelances and casuals out of a job, is an act of utter cynical opportunism. Murdoch is clearly banking on this drawing a line under the scandal, removing an obstacle to the BskyB deal, and letting his senior executives off the hook. That simply won’t wash. It is not ordinary working journalists who have destroyed this paper’s credibility – it is the actions of Murdoch’s most senior people.

“James Murdoch was absolutely right when he said in his statement today that ‘Wrongdoers turned a good newsroom bad.’ Yet those wrongdoers are still there today, at the top of the News International empire and ordinary staff at the paper are paying with their livelihoods.

“The closure of the News of the World – a newspaper that has been in print now for 168 years – is a calculated sacrifice by Rupert Murdoch to salvage his reputation and that of News International, in the hope that readers will switch allegiance to a new seven-day operation at The Sun, the government will wave through the BskyB deal and he will widen his grip on the UK’s media landscape."

She added: “It is ironic that 25 years after the Wapping dispute it is the behaviour of Rupert Murdoch and his management that has caused the closure of the newspaper. The NUJ will offer all support to its members at the News of the World facing compulsory redundancies and will be organising an emergency meeting of all journalists at the title to offer advice and support.”

Hacked Off Statement on Closure of News of the World

The announcement by News International that this Sunday’s News of the World will be the last does not alter the need for a full public inquiry into phone hacking and related matters.

Indeed James Murdoch’s statement raises further questions about the conduct of senior figures at the company. We feel that the closure of a 168-year-old title, with the consequent loss of jobs, is a destructive act which actually underlines the need to get to the truth.

Hacked Off will continue to press for a judge-led public inquiry, with full powers to establish:

· The extent of the use of illegal information-gathering methods by the press, directly and through intermediaries;

· The conduct of the Metropolitan Police Service in investigating these matters, and its relations with the press;

· The communication between press and politicians in relation to these matters;

· The conduct of the Press Complaints Commission and of the Information Commissioner, and of other relevant parties such as mobile telephone companies;

· The lessons to be learned from these events and actions to be taken to ensure they are not repeated.

We are currently preparing proposals on what should be the remit, the timing and the composition of a public inquiry.

The Hacked Off campaign is committed to ensuring that the public find out the details and scale of illegal intrusion employed over a sustained period and that those responsible are exposed.

Sun subs in walk-out

According to the NUJ, in solidarity with colleagues at the News of the World, tonight sub-editors at the Sun walked out in protest.

The union claimed: "At the same time as the protest, inside the building, News of the World staff were being told about the redundancies. The company has told staff they will receive a 90 day payment which covers the legally required consultation period for job cuts.

Pic: Nick Davies at City University (Jon Slattery) and his Guardian splash two years ago on the hacking scandal.

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