Allen Lane, £20

Dial M for Murdoch: News Corporation and the Corruption of Britain, By Tom Watson & Martin Hickman

The first full account of hacking scandals and their aftermath reveals the wholesale abuse of power.

We are emerging – or let us hope that we are – from a period when, for a prominent section of the British press, no holds were barred. It wasn't just that the ends were thought to justify any means, so that reporters and editors were entitled to lie, distort, bully and intrude in pursuit of whatever they considered a story. The ends themselves were also without limit. Newspapers didn't exist merely to inform and entertain, nor even to make money. Instead, their mission embraced dictating public policy, arbitrarily building and destroying reputations and careers, dragging down ministers and governments, overriding democratic, judicial and police processes and intimidating, humiliating or marginalising all who got in their way.

Unelected but highly political, owned largely by very wealthy, right-wing people who pay little or no tax in this country, these papers had the gall to justify their brutish activities in the name of freedom of expression. Rupert Murdoch was and is the leader of the pack. Indeed, Murdoch's idea of the ends that newspapers serve is probably so broad as to be beyond our imagining. At least, for him their purpose is to create, using all the means listed above, the most favourable climate for his businesses. But his ambitions stretch much farther than that, for he wants, if not monopoly, then domination.

His ambitions also stretch beyond this life. He wants that domination not just for himself but for his bloodline into the next generation. It would all be incredible and intolerable were it not that Murdoch controlled or influenced so much of our perception of what was going on. It has taken an earthquake to crack open the wall of misrepresentation that shielded News International's power from view. Dial M for Murdoch, a gripping, shocking read from start to finish, is an admirable first chronicle of that earthquake and its aftermath.

Co-written by the Labour MP who led the parliamentary interrogation of Rupert and James Murdoch, and by Martin Hickman of The Independent, the book does not offer many surprising new facts. Nor is it a polemic against Murdoch; nor is it a puff for the career of the member for West Bromwich East - though it often adopts his perspective, and very occasionally his prejudices. It is a clear, fluent narrative of the hacking scandal and the attendant side-scandals and cover-ups, from a decade ago to the present day.

By the simple means of placing the many events in order, the book demonstrates the corrupting capacity of Murdoch's "shadow state". Key documents are reproduced, casting the most unforgiving light on those leading players who knew one thing and said another. The Motorman affair, implicating most of the press in illegal intrusion, and the ghastly sequels to the 1987 murder of Daniel Morgan, are given proper prominence.

As it races along, the book also reminds you of little details, easily forgotten, that deliver both surprise and fresh understanding. We all know now that The Guardian's Milly Dowler story of 4 July 2011 was a turning-point. It provoked public anger and revulsion, and quickly forced the closure of the News of the World and the establishment of the Leveson inquiry. But how many of us remembered that the next morning, not one tabloid newspaper placed the Milly Dowler story anywhere on its front page? Confronted by unprecedented scandal in their own industry, all adopted the ostrich position. Worse, they tried to con their readers into thinking that hacking was not a scandal at all.

This book has its limits. Because of continuing legal proceedings it could not take us as deep into the News of the World newsroom as it might have, but doubtless those gaps can be filled when dust has settled. It could say more about public policies influenced by Murdoch, not just in communications but in tax, crime, education, foreign affairs (Iraq) and other fields. It also lets the non-Murdoch press off a little lightly. Murdoch may have been the biggest bully in the playground, but others participated vigorously in that amoral, undemocratic culture. Then again, that might have made the canvas too big for one book, and perhaps the whole picture is properly left to Lord Justice Leveson.

Brian Cathcart teaches journalism at Kingston University, and is a founder of Hacked Off

Arts and Entertainment
Caroline Flack became the tenth winner of Strictly Come Dancing
tvReview: 'Absolutely phenomenal' Xtra Factor presenter wins Strictly Come Dancing final
Arts and Entertainment
J Jefferson Farjeon at home in 1953
booksBooksellers say readers are turning away from modern thrillers and back to golden age of crime writing
Arts and Entertainment
Nick Hewer is to leave The Apprentice after 10 years

TV review Nick Hewer, the man whose eyebrows speak a thousand words, is set to leave The Apprentice

Arts and Entertainment
Female fans want more explicit male sex in Game of Thrones, George R R Martin says

film George RR Martin owns a cinema in Santa Fe

Arts and Entertainment
Clued up: John Lynch and Gillian Anderson in ‘The Fall’

TV review

PROMOTED VIDEO
Arts and Entertainment
Rhys says: 'I'm not playing it for laughs, but I have learnt that if you fall over on stage, people can enjoy that as much as an amazing guitar solo'
musicGruff Rhys on his rock odyssey, and the trouble with independence
Arts and Entertainment
Krysia and Daniel (Hand out press photograph provided by Sally Richardson)
How do today's composers answer the challenge of the classical giant?
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
News
Shenaz Treasurywala
film
News
tv
Arts and Entertainment
Jason Watkins as Christopher Jefferies
tv
Arts and Entertainment
Star Wars Director JJ Abrams: key character's names have been revealed
film
Arts and Entertainment
Pharrell Williams won two BBC Music Awards for Best Song and International Artist
music
Arts and Entertainment
Mark, Katie and Sanjay in The Apprentice boardroom
TV
Arts and Entertainment

Film The critics but sneer but these unfashionable festive films are our favourites

Arts and Entertainment
Frances O'Connor and James Nesbitt in 'The Missing'

TV We're so close to knowing what happened to Oliver Hughes, but a last-minute bluff crushes expectations

Arts and Entertainment
Joey Essex will be hitting the slopes for series two of The Jump

TV

Who is taking the plunge?
Arts and Entertainment
Katy Perry as an Ancient Egyptian princess in her latest music video for 'Dark Horse'

music
Arts and Entertainment
Dame Judi Dench, as M in Skyfall

film
Arts and Entertainment
Morrissey, 1988

TV
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    The week Hollywood got scared and had to grow up a bit

    The week Hollywood got scared and had to grow up a bit

    Sony suffered a chorus of disapproval after it withdrew 'The Interview', but it's not too late for it to take a stand, says Joan Smith
    From Widow Twankey to Mother Goose, how do the men who play panto dames get themselves ready for the performance of a lifetime?

    Panto dames: before and after

    From Widow Twankey to Mother Goose, how do the men who play panto dames get themselves ready for the performance of a lifetime?
    Thirties murder mystery novel is surprise runaway Christmas hit

    Thirties murder mystery novel is surprise runaway Christmas hit

    Booksellers say readers are turning away from dark modern thrillers and back to the golden age of crime writing
    Anne-Marie Huby: 'Charities deserve the best,' says founder of JustGiving

    Anne-Marie Huby: 'Charities deserve the best'

    Ten million of us have used the JustGiving website to donate to good causes. Its co-founder says that being dynamic is as important as being kind
    The botanist who hunts for giant trees at Kew Gardens

    The man who hunts giants

    A Kew Gardens botanist has found 25 new large tree species - and he's sure there are more out there
    The 12 ways of Christmas: Spare a thought for those who will be working to keep others safe during the festive season

    The 12 ways of Christmas

    We speak to a dozen people who will be working to keep others safe, happy and healthy over the holidays
    Birdwatching men have a lot in common with their feathered friends, new study shows

    The male exhibits strange behaviour

    A new study shows that birdwatching men have a lot in common with their feathered friends...
    Diaries of Evelyn Waugh, Virginia Woolf and Noël Coward reveal how they coped with the December blues

    Famous diaries: Christmas week in history

    Noël Coward parties into the night, Alan Clark bemoans the cost of servants, Evelyn Waugh ponders his drinking…
    From noble to narky, the fall of the open letter

    From noble to narky, the fall of the open letter

    The great tradition of St Paul and Zola reached its nadir with a hungry worker's rant to Russell Brand, says DJ Taylor
    A Christmas ghost story by Alison Moore: A prodigal daughter has a breakthrough

    A Christmas ghost story by Alison Moore

    The story was published earlier this month in 'Poor Souls' Light: Seven Curious Tales'
    Marian Keyes: The author on her pre-approved Christmas, true love's parking implications and living in the moment

    Marian Keyes

    The author on her pre-approved Christmas, true love's parking implications and living in the moment
    Bill Granger recipes: Our chef creates an Italian-inspired fish feast for Christmas Eve

    Bill Granger's Christmas Eve fish feast

    Bill's Italian friends introduced him to the Roman Catholic custom of a lavish fish supper on Christmas Eve. Here, he gives the tradition his own spin…
    Liverpool vs Arsenal: Brendan Rodgers is fighting for his reputation

    Rodgers fights for his reputation

    Liverpool manager tries to stay on his feet despite waves of criticism
    Amir Khan: 'The Taliban can threaten me but I must speak out... innocent kids, killed over nothing. It’s sick in the mind'

    Amir Khan attacks the Taliban

    'They can threaten me but I must speak out... innocent kids, killed over nothing. It’s sick in the mind'
    Michael Calvin: Sepp Blatter is my man of the year in sport. Bring on 2015, quick

    Michael Calvin's Last Word

    Sepp Blatter is my man of the year in sport. Bring on 2015, quick