The British media have never been shy of taking aggressive steps in their quest for a good front page story, but the trial of Andy Coulson, Rebekah Edwards and Rupert Murdoch’s empire generally and the much-vaunted Leveson inquiry which, according to one of today’s opinion pieces from the Daily Mail amounted to at attempt by PM David Cameron to distance himself from Murdoch, but has also cast a chill over UK press freedom
Here’s what the Daily Mail had to say:
There are aspects of the voicemail hacking case on which it would be inappropriate to comment while the jury considers two outstanding charges, relating to separate matters.
For the moment, we will only observe that the verdicts delivered so far raise serious questions, about the strong-arm tactics of the police and – more disturbing still – the Prime Minister’s judgment.
The Mail has often asked why the police thought it necessary to launch melodramatic dawn raids on journalists’ homes, rampaging from room to room and rifling through family possessions
After all, they knew they weren’t dealing with terrorists, gangland killers or armed robbers. The accused were professional people, suspected (in five out of seven cases, wrongly) of nothing more life-threatening than eavesdropping on celebrities’ voicemail messages.
Isn’t the 6am knock on a journalist’s door the mark of a totalitarian state?
In light of the acquittal of five of the defendants on all charges, the question is all the more pertinent.
Meanwhile dozens of journalists, many of whom have been similarly treated, remain on police bail, awaiting decisions on whether they should be prosecuted.
With their lives in limbo – some for many months – how much longer must they suffer this punishment without trial?
But it is David Cameron’s poor judgment that concerns us even more. For on his own admission in his televised apology, yesterday’s guilty verdict against Andy Coulson, on the charge of phone hacking, reflects appallingly on his decision to hire the former editor of the News of the World as his director of communications.
At the time, senior figures in the media and politics advised the Prime Minister strongly against the appointment. And he was well aware of the shadow of the investigation hanging over Mr Coulson.
So why did Mr Cameron ignore wiser counsels, giving him this job at the heart of the Tory Party and the Government? Two reasons – neither worthy of him.
One was a foolish belief that the former editor of a red-top paper might be just the man to lend the Tories the common touch they so manifestly lacked. The other, more questionable still, was his determination to strengthen his links with Rupert Murdoch’s media empire.
But just as damning of Mr Cameron’s judgment are those verdicts of not guilty on Mr Coulson’s fellow defendants.
For don’t these expose the baselessness of his decision to call the Leveson Inquiry – which has cast such a chill over Press freedom – in his panic-stricken bid to distance himself from the Murdoch papers he had so assiduously courted?
As was made clear at the trial, his justification for launching that inquiry – a claim by the Guardian that the News of the World had deleted Milly Dowler’s messages, raising false hopes she might be alive – was without any foundation.
Meanwhile, as yesterday’s conviction confirms, existing laws against phone-hacking are entirely adequate to deal with rogue journalists.
Yet to save his own face, Mr Cameron was prepared to jeopardise our 300 years of Press freedom from State interference.
After the imprisonment of three journalists in Egypt this week, the Prime Minister had fine words to say about how appalled he was, and the vital importance of a free Press to democracy.
He should consider his reaction to the hacking scandal, and hang his head.
When Mr Murdoch was summoned by MPs to answer for phone-hacking, he called it ‘the most humble day of my life’.
Surely for Mr Cameron, yesterday was every bit as humiliating