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Michael Collins: The New Know-Nothings - Murdoch(s), Brooks + Cameron

By Michael Collins - Posted on 21 July 2011

The Murdoch's and their former chief executive of News International testified before a House of Commons committee yesterday. Their hours of explanations can be summarized in a phrase: we knew nothing. (Image)

Rupert Murdoch was too busy flying around the world milking his cash cow media properties to be at all involved.

Number two son James was the executive in direct command and he heard nothing.

Rebekah Brooks, editor of the News of the World at the time of the Milly Dowler hacking, completed the trifecta of ignorance. Since she knew nothing, her very frequent contact with the Murdoch father-son team had to be, as the Fugs said, "a whole lot of nothing."

A second House of Commons hearing considered the role of the police in all of this. Paul Stephenson resigned in disgrace recently as head of the London Metropolitan Police. He concluded that the conviction of two News of the World phone hackers in 2007 was a "very successful" end of the investigation. Phone hacking and other invasions of privacy, case closed.

The assistant police commissioner, John Yates, (who also resigned this week) claimed that he barely understood the phone hacking scandal since he was busy with counter terrorism activities. As a result, it was perfectly all right for him to hire "Neil Wallis, the former deputy editor of the News of the World, as a public relations adviser to the Met" (London police)..

The Prime Minister in a bubble, David Cameron, didn't testify. There was no need according to police witnesses. Along with the London police, they decided to keep the PM in the dark.  He was still in the dark today as he delivered his statement to the House of Commons.  He said, had he known that Andy Coulson was involved in "phone hacking and other illegal activities in the British press," he wold never have hired him to run his media relations.  He reminded us that Coulson should be considered innocent until proven guilty.  Since he's been barred from briefings by his own staff, there wasn't much he could add to the matter.

That's it for the one day committee hearings. Members asked intelligent questions with the Murdoch's responding respectfully. Brooks sought to impress with a sober presentation. She asked to come back when her legal difficulties are cleared up. She also insisted that she and PM Cameron never went horseback riding together in the woods near her home (tell that to neighbor Hugh Grant who saw them together on numerous occasions).

Yesterday's showing by the witnesses was a moment of civilized defiance. They denied the obvious facts. They didn't given an inch. They blamed others and spoke of their own integrity. They were "shocked, oh so shocked" to hear of the awful acts that invaded and exploited the personal and emotional privacy of their victims.

They are either ignorant or lying, as one MP put it to James Murdoch. I vote for lying (except in the case of Brooks who combined both qualities).

Proof of Prevarication

How can there be proof that there was lying all around at the hearings? Don't we need a thorough investigation?

No we don't. There is proof positive that both the Murdoch faction and the police officials were simply ignoring the obvious as they mocked the committee and the citizens of the United Kingdom.

In 2006, the following report was issued by the British governments Office of the Information Commissioner: What price privacy? The unlawful trade in confidential personal information 10 May 2006 The report was "ordered by the House of Commons." In a summary of findings, we discover the smoking gun. Even if all of the witnesses were as ignorant as they could be, they would not have missed this:

"Investigations by the ICO and the police have uncovered evidence of a widespread and organised undercover market in confidential personal information. Such evidence forms the core of this report, providing details about how the unlawful trade in personal information operates: who the buyers are, what information they are seeking, how that information is obtained for them, and how much it costs." (p. 6)

"Evidence of a widespread and organized undercover market"

What did they know and when did they know it? Certainly right after this 2006 report; probably well before the report was released. It named media organizations as the prime consumers for illegally obtained private information. The report states:

"Journalists have a voracious demand for personal information, especially at the popular end of the market. The more information they reveal about celebrities or anyone remotely in the public eye, the more newspapers they can sell." (p. 19)

How extensive was the market among journalists for illegally obtained private information?

"This mass of evidence documented literally thousands of section 55 offenses, and added many more identifiable reporters supplied with information, bringing the total to some 305 named journalists." (p. 19)

This was from the sample of information peddlers reviewed for the report. There were many more according to the researchers.

By mid-2006, London had a robust market for private information, illegally obtained personal information. The information crack houses were visited by journalists who used the material for their own aggrandizement. The police were keenly aware of all of this since they participated in the investigation and recommendations with the Office of the Information Commissioner.

The report concludes with this recommendation (emphasis from report):

"The Information Commissioner recommends that the Press Complaints Commission (and its associated Code of Practice Committee of Editors) should take a much stronger line to tackle any involvement by the press in the illegal trade in personal information. Following publication of this report the Commissioner proposes to raise the issue again with the PCC and will be asking for firm proposals within six months." (p. 34)

As this investigation proceeds and you hear people in the UK or the United States minimizing the process of illegal surveillance, claiming that they didn't know it was a problem, recall this report. It isn't about two convicted phone hackers or a couple of bad journalists. It documents hundreds of journalists who purchased illegal information at illegal information brokers across London, a fact well known to the police.

This was known all along. The Murdoch crew isn't alone, although there are plenty of reasons to think that they are the worst abusers. News Corporation is about more than newspapers, television stations, and other media properties. It's a way of life for any nation that it dominates politically with its demeaning, bizarre agenda of paranoia and mistrust. They are a very good first hurdle to creating an honest debate and, at the very least, the possibility of solutions to our significant challenges.


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