The Media Standards Trust today, Monday 11th April, gives its full support to calls for an independent public inquiry into phone hacking across the British news media.
Lord Fowler last week called for an independent inquiry into a “total abuse of power” by parts of the press. Professor Brian Cathcart has supported Lord Fowler’s call, as has Chris Bryant MP.
Only an independent inquiry can establish the extent of phone hacking and other illegal privacy intrusions by News International and other news outlets. Only an independent inquiry can assess the full nature of the relationship between the police and the press. Only an independent inquiry can examine the degree to which power has been abused by senior figures in the media.
In September 2010 the Media Standards Trust supported Tom Watson MP’s calls for a judicial inquiry following the revelations published in the New York Times. No such inquiry was established.
In July 2009, the MST called for the press to take the initiative and ‘appoint a genuinely independent figure with wide-ranging powers, to conduct a lengthy and detailed investigation’. This was in response to the revelation, published by The Guardian (8th July 2009), that ‘News Group News¬papers ha[d] paid out more than £1m to settle legal cases that threatened to reveal evidence of his journalists’ repeated involvement in the use of criminal methods to get stories’. An independent inquiry instigated by the press, we then argued, ‘could prove to critics of the system of press self-regulation that it is – contrary to popular perception – able to hold the press to account’ and ‘could help to renew public confidence’. The call was not taken up.
The Media Standards Trust strongly believes in the principle of a self-regulated press, but self-regulation has, in this case, shown itself to be incapable of uncovering the truth. Internal inquiries by News Group Newspapers and two ‘investigations’ by the Press Complaints Commission failed to reveal any wrongdoing at the News of the World beyond the conduct of Clive Goodman. Since the paper has now admitted wider liability for phone hacking it is clear that the current system has neither the inclination nor the capacity to perform an adequate investigation.
We therefore need a full independent inquiry with full subpoena powers so that all the facts can be brought to light.
Martin Moore, director of the MST, said: “News International has had five years to come clean about phone hacking. It has not only failed to come clean but has done its utmost to prevent information coming out. Even now it is trying to constrain disclosure. If we are ever to find out what really went on – at News International and elsewhere in the press – we need an independent inquiry”.