BRITAIN: Phone-hacking inquiry opens


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REPORTING FROM LONDON -- Journalists and media executives on Thursday told of the ruthless pressures that face reporters and editors in the competitive world of British journalism as hearings began before a panel investigating media practices in the wake of a phone-hacking scandal that forced the closure a popular British tabloid this summer.

The panel, led by Lord Justice Brian Leveson and including six members who come from the media, a lobbying group and the police, heard the comments on the first day of a two-part investigation in central London.


The government called for the investigation after the phone-hacking scandal erupted this summer, leading to the shuttering of the News of the World, a popular British tabloid owned by media magnate Rupert Murdoch.

News International, the British branch of Murdoch’s empire, has now received scores of writs from celebrities and members of the public, including crime and terrorism victims, who claim their phones were illegally hacked by his newspapers.

Former tabloid reporter Richard Peppiatt told the panel his articles in the tabloid Daily Star rarely told the truth, ‘yet only a similar number could be classed as outright lies. This is because as much as the skill of a journalist today is about finding facts, it is also, particularly at the tabloid end of the market, about knowing what facts to ignore. The job is about making the facts fit the story, because the story is almost pre-defined.’

He accused the paper of pursuing ‘a crude, morally deplorable play on the politics of fear in the pursuit of profit. They may be the worst offenders, but they are far from alone.’

Alan Rusbridger, editor of the Guardian, the first paper to break the phone-hacking story, urged the panel to consider the role of newspapers in a world where ‘countless blogs, platforms and websites reproduce some of the functions of newspapers.’

‘Anyone wanting to know why a free press matters could do worse than study the story of how the phone-hacking scandal at the News of the World was uncovered –- looking both at the dogs that barked, and those that didn’t,’ he said.


Trevor Kavanagh, former editor of the Sun, a Murdoch-owned tabloid, suggested that the inquiry was out ‘to get the tabloids as uncultured, malpractised and unethical.’ He staunchly defended tabloids and their ‘kiss and tell’ agenda. ‘Tabloids drive the news agenda ... they are followed up almost without question by the broadsheets,’ he said.


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-- Janet Stobart