Will News of the World’s Shuttering Change British Journalism Tactics?


bjbjLULU MARGARET WARNER: And this afternoon,
reports surfaced that the company may be considering replace the Sunday News of the World with
another Murdoch publication. Its sister paper, The Sun, published weekly and Saturday, could
add a Sunday edition. For more on all this, we turn to Ned Temko, a writer for The Observer
newspaper in London. And, Ned, welcome back. Thanks for being with us. So what was the
thinking behind this dramatic decision to shut down this very profitable newspaper?
NED TEMKO, The Observer: Well, the best description I have heard this evening is that this is
the first newspaper in history to die of shame. But that’s not strictly true. It was a commercial
decision. It was a huge exercise in damage limitation. Advertisements were being pulled.
There was some sign that circulation would be under threat. And this was just a dramatic
way of attempting, at least, to cut their losses. MARGARET WARNER: Now, it’s been known
for years that News of the World used private investigators. Some of them were tapping phones
of people. And the British public seemed to have a sort of ho-hum attitude about it. Why
did it suddenly turn on them that week? NED TEMKO: Well, that’s a great point. I think
they mostly had a ho-hum attitude because the victims, until this week, were seen — and,
in fact, were — M.P.s, members of Parliament, that is, actors, either rich or influential
people. And there wasn’t a huge resonance in the pubs and on the playgrounds and elsewhere
in Britain of sympathy for these guys. But when it got to the point where the family
or, indeed, the victim herself, Milly Dowler, this poor 13-year-old girl who was abducted,
the parents of two children who were abducted in Soham, near Cambridge, the families of
terror victims, of British soldiers killed in Afghanistan and Iraq, this raised it to
a whole different level. MARGARET WARNER: Now, what sorts of stories did these investigators
who passed the information on to the newspaper, what sort of stories did all this hacking
produce? NED TEMKO: Well, in the case of celebrities, it was tittle-tattle, but it’s the kind of
thing that sold newspapers. You have got to remember, the News of the World, although
now was selling far less, like all newspapers, than it was in the ’60s, when Murdoch bought
it, was still selling 2.8 million copies a week. And a lot of its fare was basically
celebrity gossip. And no better way to get it, it appears, than to listen in on voice
mail messages for the people you’re reporting about. MARGARET WARNER: But then average people,
what did they get out of those? NED TEMKO: I mean, basically, I can’t judge, because,
needless to say, I have never done it. But one could only imagine, in the case, for instance,
of the terror victims in — on July 7, 2005, initially, there was huge confusion. A lot
of people were missing. The details of just what damage was caused, how many victims was
still very much up in the air. And I could only imagine that, by tapping in on these
voice mail messages, they hoped to hear from the police, from medical authorities and others
what they were saying privately to the families of those who were missing. MARGARET WARNER:
Now… NED TEMKO: It was basically lazy journalism. And it was a shortcut to basically asking
sources and getting the facts. MARGARET WARNER: Now, one of the most sinister subjects to
come out of these leaks is that the police and even Scotland Yard had been compromised
in some respects by News of the World. NED TEMKO: Yes, that’s true. And, certainly, the
police… MARGARET WARNER: And how so? NED TEMKO: Well, the police seemed to accept this
allegation. And the allegation is that, routinely, the News of the World was paying at least
some police officers at Scotland Yard, which is the London police force, presumably for
information. The open question and the one that could be immensely damaging politically
is whether there was any connection between these alleged payments and the fact that an
earlier police inquiry into this some years ago was so anemic. It basically exonerated
everybody involved, and it took the initial word of News International executives that
this was just a rogue reporter and one investigator, and it wasn’t a practice that was widespread,
something that is clearly not true now. MARGARET WARNER: And what about other newspapers? I
noticed in the debate yesterday in Parliament, some M.P.s were not only tarring Murdoch,
but all the British press, for using — quote — “similar tactics.” Do they? NED TEMKO:
Well, I think the answer is, we don’t know. But one of the two inquiries that the government
seems minded to set up will look into practices across the media industry. And I think it’s
widely accepted that, if not phone hacking, there are practices that, particularly in
the United States, would be seen as very close to the edge, if not over the edge. For instance,
the News of the World, in addition to this phone hacking, routinely had reporters basically
masquerade as, in some cases, Arab sheiks, businessmen to basically entrap people into
doing something that was embarrassing or even potentially illegal. And that was kind of
a stock in trade. And I don’t think that was limited to News of the World. But, obviously,
one of the things this inquiry — inquiry will try to look into is how widespread it
was. MARGARET WARNER: And then back to Murdoch. It was — attacks on him came from M.P.s of
both parties yesterday. One, that is a — is that a big turnabout? And, two, what do you
think or what are people you are talking to say this whole thing may mean for Murdoch
and his empire, not only there, but elsewhere, the U.S., worldwide? NED TEMKO: Well, first
of all, it is a huge turnaround, less so in the case of the leader of the opposition,
Ed Miliband, because, after all, he’s not likely to be prime minister any time soon.
But it is a huge change, in that the pattern over the last 10 to 15 years is that all major
political party leaders have been kind of competing to woo Murdoch and his titles, on
the assumption that if you want to get into number 10 Downing Street, you better have
him on your side. Now, I think that was beginning to wane, but it has certainly changed now.
As for what it means for Murdoch, the main immediate concern he will have is another
pending decision about an application for his company to take over full ownership, as
you said in your piece, of BSkyB. That’s Sky Broadcasting here. That decision was supposed
to be taken this week. It’s been announced just hours ago that it’s now been kicked into
the long grass, and it will be decided, at the earliest, in September. MARGARET WARNER:
Yes. And, as I understand it, BSkyB’s revenues are a lot bigger than News of the World. Well,
Ned Temko from The Observer in London, thank you very much. NED TEMKO: Thank you. h)x[
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