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Journalism and the British Phone Hacking Scandal

Written by Dick Pryor on Friday July 22, 2011


The Sheet

July 24, 2011

The journalism world is reacting to one of the biggest scandals in many years. It's complicated, but basically the story surrounds illegal cell phone hacking performed by employees of Rupert Murdoch's News of the World tabloid newspaper.

The story gained international attention after former News of the World journalist Sean Hoare alleged that hacking into the cell phones of politician, celebrities and others was a common practice at the Murdoch-owned newspaper. That led to an investigation by London's metropolitan police and apology from the News of the World for hacking into voice mails from 2004 to 2006. The story escalated in July of this year, when it was revealed that News of the World reporters hacked into the cell phone of a missing teenager who was later found murdered. The hackers removed some of her voice mail messages, which led her parents to believe the teen was still alive.

News Corp. CEO Rupert Murdoch called the allegations against News of the World "deplorable and unacceptable" and on July 10 he shut down the newspaper after 168 years of operation. The next day, former British Prime Minister Gordon Brown accused other papers of illegally obtaining personal information about him. News Corp. then withdrew its offer to take over a British satellite broadcaster and current Prime Minister David Cameron announced plans to begin an investigation of the British press. That resulted in Murdoch and his son, James, testifying before a committee of Parliament.

The growing scandal reached the United States when Les Hinton, the publisher of the highly-regarded Wall Street Journal announced his resignation. Murdoch's top assistant, News International chief executive Rebekah Brooks also resigned.

The latest revelation concerns the possible hacking of cell phones of 9/11 victims and their families. This has prompted calls for the U.S. Justice Department, Congress and FBI to launch investigations of News Corp. This is especially significant due to the massive holdings in the Murdoch media empire. He owns hundreds of newspapers, including 70% of the newspapers in his native Australia. Murdoch's holdings include Fox News, the Fox network, numerous other broadcast and satellite outlets, book publishing, magazines, film production, sports, radio, technology, music and outdoor advertising. A list of Murdoch's holdings can be found here.

To discuss the reach of this evolving scandal and its possible impact on American journalism, we brought together a panel of Oklahoma's leading journalists - Joe Worley, Executive Editor of The Tulsa World; Kelly Dyer Fry, Editor of The Oklahoman and Vice President for the OPUBCO Communications Group; Charles Self, PhD, Director of the Institute for Research and Training at the University of Oklahoma Gaylord College of Journalism and Mass Communication; and Terry Clark, PhD, Director of the Oklahoma Journalism Hall of Fame and Professor of Journalism at the University of Central Oklahoma.

We discussed the size of the scandal and what it is likely to mean to the media world. They expressed concern that the public will see the News Corp. scandal as standard operating procedure for journalists, without seeing the distinction from most media scandals: this one involves illegal activity, not just a breach of journalism ethics. That goes to the bigger problem that all journalists face, and that's that despite increased media consumption, most members of the public don't understand what we do, why we do it, and how we operate. There is also a big concern that this growing scandal could lead to more investigations of news organizations and ultimately to press regulation.

It's an enlightening discussion. Thanks for reading.

Until next time,

Dick Pryor

(Pictured above, left to right: Host Dick Pryor, Joe Worley, Charles Self, Kelly Dyer Fry, and Terry Clark.)

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