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Phone Hacking: the scandal’s not over yet

Written by Alice McCool on Monday, 30 June 2014

News has broken that Rebekah Brooks has been cleared of all charges in the phone-hacking trial, and Andy Coulson was found guilty of conspiring to hack phones. This is an outcome of one of the most significant corruption scandals in recent years – but what next?

News has broken that ex-News International chief executive Rebekah Brooks has been cleared of all charges in the phone-hacking trial and former News of the World editor Andy Coulson was found guilty of conspiring to hack phones.

This is an outcome of one of the most significant corruption scandals in recent years. But there is much left unresolved. The phone hacking revelations exposed bribery, conflict of interest and revolving door in some of the UK’s major public institutions; Parliament, the police and the media.

We wrote a piece in support of the Al Jazeera journalists unfairly jailed in Egypt yesterday. This is because freedom of the press is a key pillar in a state’s national integrity system helping to safeguard good governance while scrutinising those in positions of entrusted power in both the public and private sectors.

But we also recognise that like any other institution, the media must be held to account. Transparency International’s Global Corruption Barometer 2013 found that 69 per cent of respondents believe the UK media has a corruption problem; higher than any other sector. This is a dramatic increase since the 2010 survey when less than 40 per cent believed the sector was affected by corruption.

We believe investigative journalists play an essential role in exposing corruption worldwide. But the phone hacking scandal saw the media become intrusive and detrimental to individuals’ privacy and abused by those using the ‘pubic interest’ argument. TI-UK’s submission to the Leveson inquiry in 2011 states:

“An arms-race of information gathering and speculation can lead to corrupt behaviour such as bribe-paying. It can lead to a reluctance through fear of a media backlash, on the part of politicians, public officials and other bodies to hold to account corrupt individuals and institutions.”

The enquiry has revealed shocking details about the cosy relationship between politicians and the media. In 2008 the then-opposition Conservative leader David Cameron interrupted a family holiday to fly out to meet Rupert Murdoch on his yacht on the Greek Island of Santorini. Two years later Cameron was elected Prime Minister with Coulson as his Director of Communications.  And other ‘jaw-droppers’ have just kept on coming – in March this year, for example, it emerged that Tony Blair had offered to act as an ‘unofficial adviser’ to Brooks Murdoch and Coulson just days after the paper closed.

This is our greatest area of concern. The emergence of evidence like this in recent years indicates a culture of reliance whereby our politicians have used the media to promote their messages in an attractive way to the point that it has affected their independence and duty to act in the public interest. This even appears to have distorted government policy, possibly in key areas such as press regulation and regulation over media ownership. Now try and tell us there isn’t a corruption problem in the UK.

This string of scandals related to phone hacking has clearly displayed a need for significant legislative and behavioural change in a number of areas. Based on scandals related to phone hacking and other incidents revealing weaknesses in politics, the police and the media, Transparency International UK recommends:

  1. A police code of ethics which includes sections on accountability; conflict of Interest and typical corruption risks; and security of information and citizen privacy.
  2. A new Lobbying Act which includes a cap on donations to political parties; proper regulation of the revolving door of employment; reform of the honours system; a renewed emphasis on ethical conduct for Parliamentarians with stronger sanctions for breaches of acceptable behaviour.
  3. A media regulatory regime  which is free from political interference; allows victims such as those in the phone hacking scandal to seek recourse to an extent that is proportionate to the damage they have suffered; has genuine and effective powers of enforcement; and which includes safeguards for press freedom to ensure it is not open to abuse by those seeking to silence the press for their own ends

Andy Coulson has been brought to justice for conspiracy to intercept voicemails (phone-hacking) and our Prime Minister has publically apologised for appointing him in the height of the scandal several years ago. But there are still too many unanswered questions, and it is undeniable that Leveson has revealed underlying corruption problems in the UK which are as big, as ugly, and as present as before.


Read 8564 times Last modified on Tuesday, 24 November 2015 12:18

Alice McCool

Alice formerly worked for Transparency International UK as our Campaigns Officer. You can tweet her via @McCoolingtons.

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