The first reaction to the Phonehackgate revelations was to claim they were payback by rotten lefties for Damian McBride. The next was to claim that not only all papers had done it, but also that it was no big deal and that the broadcasters were somehow also implicated. And now, as another wave of smearing is launched in a desperate attempt to stop properly independent press regulation, has come another excuse.
And this is that, although the press may have hacked, they were in a minority, and that the authorities should be going after someone else. “80% of hacking was by lawyers and major firms... and the Leveson inquiry knew all about it” howls the Mail in protest. The paper is selectively drawing conclusions after lifting a story from the Independent about a Serious Organised Crime Agency (Soca) report.
This is the paragraph the Mail has latched onto: “It is understood that one of the key hackers mentioned in the confidential Soca report admitted that 80 per cent of his client list was taken up by law firms, wealthy individuals and insurance companies. Only 20 per cent was attributed to the media, which was investigated by the Leveson Inquiry after widespread public revulsion following the phone-hacking scandal”.
Now, there is a debate to be had on Soca apparently sitting on the report, despite the apparent criminality that has been uncovered. But the Fourth Estate would not have given a fig about that aspect, had the whole sorry saga of phone hacking and other illegal information gathering not come to light. Now they are, for once, championing Labour MP Tom Watson, rather than kicking him.
And there are three aspects of this saga that the Mail has managed to somehow overlook. Firstly, the Independent refers only to “one of the key hackers”. Unless this matched the clientele of all the hackers, blaggers and other purveyors of illegally obtained information, then any assumption that “80% of hacking was by lawyers and major firms” is another false assumption.
Second, that someone else does something illegal does not excuse what the Screws, in particular, got up to before Glenn Mulcaire got nicked – and possibly even after that. It just means someone else figured out what the press knew. And the Mail does not stop and think that the hacker they are talking about may be someone that was not already known to be working for the press. Oh what a giveaway!
And third, the reference to Leveson is utterly irrelevant. That Inquiry was “To inquire into the culture, practices, and ethics of the press”. Papers like the Mail, via their lawyers, made sure it kept to that remit. Now the same paper wants to suggest it should have gone further, except that it didn’t want to widen the remit at the time. In other words, the Mail wants once more to have its cake and eat it.
So, ultimately, this is another example of press hypocrisy. No change there, then.