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The Basics on Britain's Phone-hacking Scandal


The Basics on Britain's Phone-hacking Scandal

Rupert Murdoch

Photo by James Knowler/Getty Images

The phone-hacking scandal is perhaps the biggest press scandal ever in Britain, and that's saying something in a country where the tabloid newspapers are notorious for their aggressive pursuit of sensational stories. It involves Rupert Murdoch's vast media empire, one of the country's raciest tabs, the slayings of three young girls and the victims of an Islamic terrorist attack.

And, perhaps more importantly, it has reignited a long-running debate in Britain about whether journalism is truly a profession, with a code of ethics, or something else entirely.

Here are the basics:

• The tabloid News of the World allegedly interfered with police investigations into the disappearance of several girls who were later found murdered.

• A lawyer for the family of one of the slain girls, Milly Dowler, alleged that the paper hacked into the 13-year-old's cell phone after she disappeared in 2002. The paper allegedly deleted some of the girl's messages, thus giving her parents and police false hope that she was still alive.

• Police told the parents of two other girls who were murdered in 2002 that they were investigating whether the News of the World also hacked their phones.

• The tabloid also allegedly hacked into the phones of some victims of the July 7, 2005 terrorist attacks on London's transit system that killed 52 people. The father of one of the victims said police told him he was on a list of names of potential hacking victims.

• Some police officers allegedly accepted bribes from the tabloid in return for information.

• Assistant Commissioner John Yates - Scotland Yard's top anti-terrorist officer - resigned, as did police chief Paul Stephenson. Both were linked to a former executive at the News of the World tabloid at the center of the scandal.

The News of the World closed on Sunday, July 10, 2011, amid outrage over the scandal. James Murdoch, son of media baron Rupert Murdoch and head of European operations for the paper's parent company, News International, said the tab's 168-year-old tradition had been "sullied by behavior that was wrong. Indeed, if recent allegations are true, it was inhuman and has no place in our company." He added: "The News of the World is in the business of holding others to account. But it failed when it came to itself."

• Rebekah Brooks, News International chief executive and former editor of News of the World, resigned her post and later was arrested in connection with the scandal.

• Les Hinton, former chief of News International and CEO of Dow Jones, also resigned. Hinton had led an internal probe that concluded that only one person was involved in the hacking.

• British Prime Minister David Cameron demanded a probe into the scandal and the failure of the police's original phone hacking probe, which did not uncover the allegations. Parliament held an emergency debate on the matter.

• In July 2011 Rupert Murdoch testified to Parliament about the phone-hacking scandal. He said he was sorry that his News of the World tabloid had hacked into the cellphones of possibly thousands of unsuspecting victims, but he rejected the charge that he was ultimately responsible for what had happened, saying he was let down by "people I trusted." The hearing took a dramatic turn when Murdoch's wife, Wendi Deng, threw a punch at a protester who tried to splatter the media tycoon with a shaving cream pie.

• The probe demanded by Cameron - the Leveson inquiry - was released in November 2012. It found there was a willingness in the press to use covert surveillance, misrepresentation and deception, resulting in "a culture of reckless and outrageous journalism." Stories were pursued "to the point of vice, where it has become (or, at the very least, verges on) harassment." The report said such methods were employed regardless of whether there was any public interest in doing so.

• The Leveson report also called for oversight of the press by an independent, self-regulatory committee whose chairman and board members must be appointed in a transparent way, without influence from industry or government. It said the new oversight body should be backed by a parliamentary statute, and have broad investigative powers and the authority to levy fines of up to $1.6 million.

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