Tue June 24, 2014
1 Editor Cleared, 1 Found Guilty In U.K. Phone-Hacking Trial
STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:
A British jury has reached verdicts in a trial stemming from a scandal involving hacking by tabloids. Several former editors and executives of Rupert Murdoch's newspapers face charges. Former News of the World editor, Andrew Coulson, was found guilty. Other editors were not. NPR's media correspondent David Folkenflik has been covering this story. Hi, David.
DAVID FOLKENFLIK, BYLINE: Hey, Steve.
INSKEEP: OK, so what are the verdicts here?
FOLKENFLIK: The verdicts, as you say, Andrew Coulson was found guilty on charges relating to hacking into the voicemails of some of the subjects of their reporting. But I think it's just as important - or perhaps even more important to note who wasn't found guilty. Rebekah Brooks, she was the CEO of Rupert Murdoch's British newspaper arm. And she had been Andrew Coulson's predecessor as the editor of News the World. She was found not guilty on charges related to hacking and bribery of public officials for information and also charges related to perversion of justice, or as we'd call it, obstruction of justice. Several other executives, news editors, the former top executive for security, were also found not guilty of related charges.
INSKEEP: The ironies here are pretty deep since some of these folks did, in fact, receive the tabloid treatment with their photos everywhere and accused of all kinds of things, and now they're acquitted.
FOLKENFLIK: Well, that's right. And you have to go back almost three years to think back of the summer of 2011 and the white-hot fury felt by the British public about the tabloid scandal. The fact that thousands of people, it appeared, according to evidence marshaled by police and only acknowledged after the reporting of The Guardian - thousands of people had been targeted, their voicemails perhaps looked at by people acting on behalf The News of the World. And the scandal expanded to show that there had been credible allegations that reporters for The Sun tabloid, also owned by Rupert Murdoch, had been bribing police officials, other public officials. And in fact, there have been a number of guilty verdicts reached and confessions on related charges at both newsrooms.
INSKEEP: There have been a number of guilty verdicts, you're saying. But Rebekah Brooks, among others, got off. Do you have any sense of why she would've gone free?
FOLKENFLIK: Certainly it was cutthroat competition among British newspapers, which tend to sell nationally. That said, it's much harder to prove criminal conspiracy to commit phone hacking or criminal conspiracy to bribe public officials in the absence of very hard evidence. And while people used oral testimony to try to prove that, that was a tougher sell with the jurors, who clearly didn't find that there was enough evidence for the charges against her or her former colleagues as well.
INSKEEP: But with all that said, nobody denied there was massive hacking. And we said that Andrew Coulson, the former News of the World editor, was found guilty. And he is a politically significant guy, is he not?
FOLKENFLIK: That's right. He was brought in after the first hacking convictions were reached seven years ago. He was brought in to be the chief PR executive for Prime Minister David Cameron, both as he ran to become the guy who occupied 10 Downing Street, and then when he took over office. Cameron, today, has offered to the British nation a profound apology for his judgment in deciding to give what he called a second chance to Andrew Coulson. Coulson was, essentially, his lifeline to people like Rebekah Brooks and Rupert Murdoch, and Prime Minister Cameron very much felt he needed the Murdoch media on his side. Nonetheless, that decision, calculated, came back to haunt him. And he had to offer this very profound apology today.
INSKEEP: Has this scandal changed anything, David Folkenflik, about the behavior of the British press?
FOLKENFLIK: Yes. You know, there's one point at which the editor of The Sun complained at a conference that reporters had to go and knock on doors, and make phone calls and to do, you know, old-school reporting, as though that isn't what they should have been doing all along instead of hiring private investigators to help them hack into cell phone voicemail messages. I think you've seen a much more restrained tabloid press in the last few years. They've wanted to be on best behavior as they very much feared much greater government regulation. And the Murdoch media empire feared it might, somehow, be forced to sell off some of its assets.
INSKEEP: NPR's David Folkenflik, thanks very much.
FOLKENFLIK: You bet.
INSKEEP: This is NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.