The tabloid newspapers in my home country are infamous for their daring, and often morally dubious reportage. Each time scandals about journalistic malpractice among the tabloids has occurred, this has brought calls for tighter controls. My instinct is always to dismiss these calls, not least because such controls will not only prevent the reporting of tittle-tattle, but also of important matters the reporting of which is in the public interest.
When the News of The World phone-hacking scandal first broke, I don't think too many people were too surprised. People are used to hearing of tabloid journalists bending the rules and even breaking the law in order to get a scoop. Even when it became known that people working for the News of the World (a News International publication) had at one point or another had been tapping the phones of most of the British cultural and political establishment, including the Prime Minister, this did not really register with the majority of readers.
However, the latest revelation that people working for the News of the World not only hacked into the voice mail account of Milly Dowler, a school girl who had gone missing, so they could record the distressed messages left by the girl's friends and family, but also deleted the messages of distress from the girl's friends and family which had filled the voice mail in-box so that more could be recorded to be used in their reporting. The girl's family were thus falsely given hope that she might still be alive, hope that was cruelly dashed when she was discovered to have been raped and murdered by a serial killer.
It is hard, after reading this, to view the staff of the News of the World involved in this affair as anything more than a criminal gang at best, and at worst as a ghoulish flock of vampires feasting on the woes of the vulnerable. Perhaps equally shocking is the failure of the authorities to have secured, other than the conviction of the private investigator who carried out the phone-taps, more than the conviction of the Royal correspondent whose too-accurate stories on Prince William helped unravel this conspiracy in the first place. This despite police reportedly being aware of being bugged at the time of the investigation into Milly Dowler's disappearance in 2002. This also despite News of the World journalists including details of Milly Dowler's voice-mail that could only have been obtained through hacking in their reporting on the case.
Equally as hard to credit is the denials of any knowledge of the phone-tapping coming from the News of the World's editorial team at the time, which in 2002 was headed by Rebekah Brooks, who went on to head up The Sun. At the very least, a chief editor who not only doesn't know that her staff are engaged in a phone-hacking campaign that must - judging by the sheer volume of taps required - have cost at least a six-figure sum to set up, or that hacked information is being included in the reporting carried in their paper, has shown very poor leadership indeed.
Back in 2002 I was living in Taiwan and marvelling over the Chu Mei-feng sex VCD scandal, where Scoop, a weekly magazine, published a illicitly filmed video showing Chu Meifeng, a minor official, having sex with a married man in a VCD carried, on their front cover. One thing I was sure of then - that kind of thing could only happen in Taiwan. Little did I know that at the same time a newspaper in the UK was doing something at least as bad, if not far worse.