I've missed you guys. Though it's great to be covering the Leveson Inquiry for the DailyBeast and Newsweek, it's on teh blogs in the US that I built up the support, courage and debating skills to devote these last few months to covering the Hacking Scandal and the Leveson Inquiry, and doing my bid to purge the UK of years of monopolistic media practices and abuse of power.
Just so you know, the hacking scandal has finally moved into a much bigger area of illegality, which was the first reason two years ago my interest (and concern) about Murdoch's News Corp was piqued. James Murdoch's bid for BSkyB would have given News Corp. a distorting monopoly in broadcast that it already has in newspapers here (40 percent of the readership.)
Not the cover: just a quick promo by Eric Lewis
We were days away from becoming a banana republic, with a foreign, non tax paying dynasty controlling our means of communication. Only the brave work of lawyer (Mark Lewis) and a journalist (Nick Davies) prevented this catastrophe happening by exposing the industrial scale of phone hacking and surveillance deployed by News International - against celebrities, lawyers, and political opponents.
Now, like Saigon in 1975, the Murdoch helicopter is on the roof of News International. Last weeks revelations about back door channels between senior ministers and News Corp. over the $16 billion takeover of our pay TV monopoly, BSkyB, are a clear sign that the Murdochs are burning their bridges, and trying to take down the Coalition Government which - under considerable pressure and only after the Hacking scandal - finally stood up to News Corp., blocked the BSkyB bid, and set up the Leveson Inquiry which is beaming a scorching torchlight through 30 years of political blackmail, back room deals, and illegality.
Tom Watson, the MP who led the charge against Murdoch's UK empire, is asking for help
On the eve of Lowell Bergman's excellent PBS documentary (tonight 10 PM PBS) on the original Hackgate allegations that closed News of the World, we have a data dump which actually takes the hacking allegations to a whole new level: to a global News Corp security group which appears to have been behind pay-TV hacking across the world.
Last Night's BBC1 Panorama Documentary
Through a series of reconstructions, hidden surveillance cameras and interviews with the key players, Panorama alleges that the piracy which crippled ITV Digital was a deliberate attack by the News Corp. subsidiary NDS, which produces about 75 per cent of the encryption software that protects access to pay-tv. The programme centres on an exclusive interview with Lee Gibling, the man behind The House of Ill Compute website which was, until it was closed down in 2001, the main source of codes and software for manufacturing pirate access cards.
Whew! This has been an exhausting weekend of revelations and arrests as the Hackgate scandal at News of the World has spread, via an email hacking scandal at The Times, to the arrest of ten journalists, many of them senior, at Britain's most popular paper, The Sun.
Without doubt, from the multiple angry responses from NI journalists, the British arm of Newscorp is now at war with its corporate masters in the News Corp headquarters in New York. The latter are in charge of the 100 plus lawyers at the Management and Services Committee which is directly co-operating with 161 officers in the Met Operations Weeting, Tuleta and Elveden engaged in investigating phone, email hacking and bribery of state officials. It's the latter which are behind the recent spate of arrests, and directly threatens the News Corp base with the threat of prosecution under FCPA violations.
I haven't got long because all these developments have to be incorporated in my book with Eric Lewis, Bad Press: Fall of the House of Murdoch. But in short the DOJ, the FBI and the SEC have all been investigating News Corp since the summer. Mark Lewis, the sterling lawyer for the hacking victims is heading to New York this week to launch civil claims on this basis. In the meantime it's the FCPA violations which could land senior News Corp Executives in the dock.
There are so many sources on this, from Reuters, the NYT, even the WSJ, I'm just going to link to the most recent: Ed Pilkington on the US Guardian site:
The perils to News Corp of an FCPA prosecution in the US against the company and its executives was underlined by the revelation that a grand jury has been convened in the case of Avon Products. The Wall Street Journal reported that US authorities are probing an internal audit report compiled in 2005 that found that Avon employees had bribed officials in China, yet the company only launched an official inquiry into possible violations three years later.
In the Avon case, the grand jury is likely to be asked to consider whether executives were culpable under the "willful blindness" provision of the FCPA.
Professor John Coffee, a specialist in white-collar crime at Columbia law school in New York, said that executives were at risk of prosecution in cases where they failed to ask relevant questions about a suspicious persistent pattern of payments. He gave the metaphorical example of a driver used by a Mexican drugs cartel to transport cocaine across the border who was aware that the vehicle contained a secret storage panel but made no attempt to find out what packages had been placed inside.
As part of its response to the billowing phone hacking scandal, News Corp has amassed the most formidable team of FCPA lawyers ever assembled. "They have appointed not just one of the best lawyers in this field, they have appointed most of the best lawyers," Coffee said.
"That's not normal defensive strategy," he added.
And in other 'news' (I use the term lightly in the Fox news sense), there are rumours that the government scientist David Kelly, who committed suicide after the Iraq invasion over allegations of sexing up WMD threat, could have been a hacking victim. Michael Wolff, Murdoch's official biographer speculates that James could be arrested this week. And dozens of tabloid journalists, more than happy to see others arrested in dawn raids or suffer trial by media, are whining loudly, in a liberal way, about human rights, due process, and innocent before being proven guilty.
It's ironic, given that US corporate interests (including one R Murdoch) are complaining about SOPA and how tomorrow/today's internet blackout is an 'abuse of power', that it's just emerged through the ongoing Leveson Enquiry, that the world's third largest media conglomerate, News Corp, through one of its prestigious titles, The Times of London, hacked the identity of a prize winning blogger and - apparently without revealing this to the courts - fought a privacy case against him to out his real identity and silence his blog.
The blogger in question was Nightjack, a police officer who blogged so brilliantly about the realities of police work that he won the prestigious Orwell Prize in 2009. A few months later, the anonymous blogger was outed by the Times as Richard Horton. As a result he was reprimanded by his police employers, and his blog was deleted. (The copy above has been retrieved by someone else).
At the time the Times had argued it had deduced Horton's identity from the material. But in his written statement today at the Leveson inquiry, the Times Editor James Harding admitted.
"There was an incident where the newsroom was concerned that a reporter had gained unauthorised access to an email account. When it was brought to my attention, the journalist faced disciplinary action. The reporter believed he was seeking to gain information in the public interest but we took the view he had fallen short of what was expected of a Times journalist. He was issued with a formal written warning for professional misconduct."
Not only does this connect the hacking scandal beyond the now closed News of the World and The Sun to Murdoch's broadsheet titles, it is also yet another example of egregious corporate double standards. While in the witness box today Harding had the temerity to complain that any kind or regulation would chill 'free speech'.
"We don't want a country in which the government, the state, regulates the papers ... we don't want to be in a position where the prime minister decides what goes in newspapers," he said.
He added that if the outcome of the inquiry was a "Leveson act", even one just offering a statutory backstop to an independent press regulator, it would be unworkable.
"The concern is that a Leveson act would give a mechanism to politicians to loom over future coverage," of politics, Harding said, and start introducing amendments to this legislation "and that would have a chilling effect on the press".
This from an editor who was responsible outing a celebrated blogger through hacking and then hounding him to the point of silence
This is a timely reminder that the threats to free speech don't just come from governments but from corporations too, something I've begun to explore in the first chapter of my book (illustrated by Kossack Eric Lewis) Bad Press: Fall of the House of Murdoch (warning - long quote below the fold but I'm only abusing my own copyright)
But this morning, a very reliable reporter on the Daily Mail suggested that James' testimony could be blown out of the water thanks to find among the millions of supposed deleted News International emails found on a server in India:
As expected, the appearance of James Murdoch, the Chief Executive of News International (and related to some other famous people) before the DCMS Committee today failed to produce any huge bombshells. Let's remind ourselves that the Parliamentary Committee has no real powers of subpoena, witnesses are not obliged to testify on oath, is not run by trained lawyers, and is not allowed to investigate anything that could prejudice the three ongoing police investigations.
James is smart, lawyered up, and left no hostages to fortune in terms of his evidence. Tom Watson had some stellar moments, challenging James over various contradictory testimonies, naming three or four other private investigators working for News International (adding some cryptic reference to Operation Millipede), and at least landing a rhetorical blow by calling James
'the first mafia boss in history who didn't know he was running a criminal enterprise.'.
Yes, the Murdoch story may be flying under the mainstream media radar, but with three British police investigations ongoing, two Parliamentary committees, a televised public enquiry with full powers of subpoena starting tomorrow, a DOJ enquiry stateside, and other investigations and legal cases in the US, Australia and Italy into Newscorp anti-competitive and/or criminal behaviour, this is not about to go away any time soon.
As an early indication of this, it has just been announced that over sixty separate claims (some filed in multiple names) have been filed in the UK civil claims court against News International: these include dozens of celebrities and prominent politicians, but also the families or partners of murder victims, or casualties of other high profile incidents such as the 7/7 London bombings.
These weren't people who thrust themselves into the limelight - but people who had already been violated by some awful event, only to have their own privacy violated by illegal means by a company whose only interest was profit and using press exposure to exert political power.
Bernstein on the Watergate Analogy and the Culture of Lawlessness
If you think the Watergate analogy is hyperbolical or fanciful, don't forget it was first made by Carl Bernstein himself in The Daily Beast nearly three months ago
The circumstances of the alleged lawbreaking within News Corp. suggest more than a passing resemblance to Richard Nixon presiding over a criminal conspiracy in which he insulated himself from specific knowledge of numerous individual criminal acts while being himself responsible for and authorizing general policies that routinely resulted in lawbreaking and unconstitutional conduct. Not to mention his role in the cover-up. It will remain for British authorities and, presumably, disgusted and/or legally squeezed News Corp. executives and editors to reveal exactly where the rot came from at News of the World, and whether Rupert Murdoch enabled, approved, or opposed the obvious corruption that infected his underlings.
The parallels with Watergate... Had to do with the culture itself that made this possible. In the Nixon Whitehouse Nixon was responsible for the sensibility that permeated the place, that had to do with unconstitutional acts with a cynicism about the political process and how it was practised, and a disregard for the law. And it became apparent to me, as I read more and more what was happening here, that really at bottom what this hacking furore is about, it's about a culture in the newsroom that has nothing to do with real journalism, real reporting (which is very simply put the best obtainable version of the truth) but rather has to do with serving up both the lowest common denominator of information and calling it news, and obtaining it through a methodology which is outrageous, whether you're talking about hacking or other kinds of invasions of privacy, and that the atmosphere in that newsroom is a product of the culture that Murdoch in the News of the World .
This needs must be quick because the unofficial news has just hit the street, but for those of you who think Holder and the Department of Justice aren't taking the what Gordon Brown has called the 'criminal media nexus' seriously, Bloomberg just has this
News Corp. was sent a letter by U.S. prosecutors investigating foreign bribery, requesting information on alleged payments employees made to U.K. police for tips, according to a person with knowledge of the matter.
The letter is part of an effort by the U.S. Justice Department to determine whether News Corp. violated the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act, or FCPA, according to the person, who declined to be identified because the matter isn't public. News Corp. fell 1.7 percent on the news.
This week's testimony by News International's former lawyers and executives turned into a bit of a damp squib (executives and lawyers boring? How's that?). But with the start of the Leveson Inquiry, and further arrests by the three police teams now investigatiing phone hacking, computer hacking and corruption of police officials, there's no danger this schadenfreudefestschrift is going to go away.
So let me take this relative calm to explore British Prime Minister's David Cameron's disastrous decision to employ Andy Coulson, as his main media strategist.
It's a fascinating tale, that gives a brilliant insight into what Gordon Brown described as the 'criminal-media nexus' which explains the rise of Newscorp as the most powerful global media force.