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Tuesday 14 July 2009

Murdoch is Served (7)

So today the House of Commons culture committee got to hear from Guardian journalist Nick Davies. As I predicted last week, it was standing room only. Moreover, as if to show that the paper is serious about Phonehackgate, editor Alan Rusbridger appeared alongside Davies, to the surprise even of their own coverage of events.

Also surprising the Guardian’s own staff was that Davies came armed with new evidence, demonstrating that management at the News of the World knew what was going on. This comes hard on the heels of the NotW issuing a forthright rebuttal of the Guardian’s claims on Sunday, with an equally forthright statement from the Police, which just happened to appear – an unfortunate juxtaposition – on the same page of the paper.

Davies named two significant names: Neville Thurlbeck, the NotW’s chief reporter, and Greg Miskiw, former assistant editor. He also confirmed that he had a list of 27 NotW reporters, and four from its daily sister paper, the Sun, who had been using private investigators to obtain information – much of it illegally. Further, he pointed out that the police had issued conflicting statements on the matter: Assistant Commissioner John Yates first said that where there was evidence of phone hacking, those targeted had been contacted [my emphasis] by the police. However, the following day, the Met said that it was “in the process” of contacting people and that the process could take “several days”.

Davies’ conclusion is that News International have been misleading everyone – which is a nice way of accusing them of dishonesty. He emphasised that there were two types of activity under consideration: blagging, which involves dishonestly (and illegally) obtaining information from such sources as the NHS and DVLA, and phone hacking, which is also illegal. Both have apparently been used by the NotW. The extent of the newspaper industry’s reliance on the former can be seen from a read of Davies’ Flat Earth News, in the chapter entitled The Dark Arts.

So what happens next? Well, News International will appear before the same committee next week. It is looking increasingly unlikely that Murdoch’s former UK sidekick Les Hinton (now working in the USA) will appear, so the defence is likely to be led by the twinkle toed yet domestically combative Rebekah Wade.

And in the meantime? The Guardian may have more to reveal, but as today’s events have shown, it is keeping its cards very close to its chest. So, to continue the poker analogy, the Murdoch empire cannot know the quality of the Guardian hand, and no amount of blagging Government databases or hacking of mobile phones will be able to tell just how many aces Rusbridger and Davies are holding.

But they’re not for stacking and quitting just yet.

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