“We cannot take this call at present. Please leave a message after the tone. Thank you!”… then press (*) for 5 seconds until you hear the beep, insert “0000” and you’re in, you can listen to the messages. The same applies to mobile phones… dial a sequence number for each operator, add the mobile phone number, input “0000”, listen to the messages. This is phone hacking, although the word hacking is a bit too overstated compared to the computer world. It was too easy, too simple, too tempting NOT TO DO IT!
It is naïf to think that only the newsrooms of the "News of the World", Sun or Times were using this simple process to illegally obtain private information about anyone they had a phone number from. It is naïf to think that this practice was only made by a couple of people a long time ago. It could still be going on now, the last hacked information could have been obtained last week or the last hour.
So… why all this noise about News International and Rupert Murdoch’s collapsing empire? Is he the Fall Guy? Has this practice gone a couple of steps too far? The answer is yes too all.
When Rupert Murdoch bought the News of the World, unknowingly he bought more than a bog standard sensationalist English newspaper. He bought into a world of shadows, of deals, involving police, criminals and politicians, all trying to save face and fighting to (dis)appear from the front pages of such publication. Suddenly Rupert was in the middle of the “public opinion” of the United Kingdom, he could decide what to say or omit, regardless of the legality of it, he could threaten or push forward, elevate or destroy. News International was no different of other well known organisations like the Cosa Nostra in Sicily, Camorra in Naples, Mafia in New York, Yazuka in Tokyo, with the same vocabulary, the same political and economical blackmail, racketeering, the traffic of influences with the police and administration. It became a partner in a pointless struggle for power where everyone was trying to buy Murdoch’s favours and machinations, to their own political or economical advantage. Apart from no corpses being dumped in fresh concrete (allegedly!), or horses heads being injured in this process, the entire set up was pretty much the same that you can find in Palermo, Naples, Tokyo… Murdoch was the Godfather. Everyone wanted to kiss his ring, show vassalage or else… front page and guaranteed eternal damnation.
Recently there was a Newsnight debate with Hugh Grant and a former journalist of the News of the World, one of Murdoch’s capos, Paul McMullan. The latter was arrogantly stating that it was right to hack telephones using the argument “just in case we could find a paedophile or bomb plot???” as in the public interest, because there is a demand for these news and an offer needs to be made. Public figures and other not so public deserve to be unmasked. Sounding like a self appointed member of the still prevailing Victorian Moral Police, he stated the amount of scoops found in this way, but forgot to mention, or had no intellectual aptitude to recognize, that every single “scoop” (and you can see a lot of them in the photo of the last edition of the News of the World), tells more about who wrote the story than the story itself in the same way that the offer of drugs tells more about the drug dealer than the drug itself, the offer of sex tells more about the prostitute than sex itself, the offer of slave labour tells more about traffickeers than work itself, regardless of whom is demanding. No surprise then that these are “products” traditionally offered by organisations like the ones mentioned above.
Can you imagine an Izvestia journalist calling Putin and saying “Listen Vladimir, we know that you want to be re-elected, but we heard a phone call from one of your uncles telling a story about your past that does not fit entirely with your political intentions. Come for dinner, we shall discuss this!” Pure science fiction but you can imagine the outcome. The same applies to any civilized country with civilized media. Not in the United Kingdom, not in Fleet Street.
Murdoch tried to appease everyone by deleting the "News of the World" because suddenly he knew that his empire could not compete with other media giants like CNN or Al-Jazeera. Having this type of behaviour in his newsrooms is (now!) a no-no. He would be scorned out of any meeting, no one would shake his hand because of the size of his ring, stories, the tough look of the hitmen and capos of his cortege, all a little bit too tacky, just like all his journalists and journalism. But it was too late… it is too late.
Again, it was too easy, too tempting not to go and peep into this information. Hundreds of people, thousands, knew how to hack telephones, mobile or not, in the nineties and naughties, from journalists to criminals to police. How many stories have been told in the Mirror, Mail using this information? How many unsafe convictions are now inside Her Majesty's "Residences" where people were sent to prison because police investigators used this subterfuge to obtain supposedly vital, but illegal information?
It was too easy. It is now a mess! Ah and for you "News of the World", just to finalize your front page... "Good Riddance"!