Stephen Glover: 'The Sun' can't conceal this scandal forever

Media Studies: Until recently, the Daily Mail also made little of the phone-hacking scandal

Monday 31 January 2011 01:00

Last Wednesday was the biggest day so far in the News of the World phone hacking scandal. Scotland Yard re-opened its investigation into the affair, and the paper sacked Ian Edmondson, an assistant editor. However, on Thursday neither development merited a word in the Murdoch-owned Sun, sister paper of the News of the World.

Unsurprisingly, given their long-running interest in the scandal, The Guardian and The Independent "splashed" with the story. The Murdoch-owned Times, which has been underplaying it for obvious reasons, held its nose, and carried a single column on the front. The Daily Telegraph, which has not taken a vast interest in the saga, ran 350 words at the bottom of its front page, while the Daily Mail, which has been taking even less interest, carried a longer inside page lead. Perhaps oddly, The Sun's main rival, the Daily Mirror, did not even run a short paragraph.

It would probably be naïve to expect The Sun to have carried anything about the affair in view of its record for ignoring news it doesn't like. (Equally, you would not have learnt from yesterday's News of the World that it is at the centre of a burgeoning storm.) In fact, last week was a bumper one for students of The Sun. On Monday it carried only a tiny item about Andy Gray's and Richard Keys's sexist off-screen remarks on the Murdoch-controlled Sky Sports. But by Wednesday morning, after Gray had been sacked, The Sun – wildly in my opinion – felt free to accuse him of "perving" in its splash headline.

The paper has blanked out coverage of the hacking scandal for obvious reasons: it doesn't want to embarrass its owner, Rupert Murdoch. The Times has tried to keep the story at the margins, though, being more respectable, it has covered it to some extent. Until recently, the Daily Mail also made little of the scandal. Some have suggested that this is because in 2006 the then Information Commissioner, Richard Thomas, said it topped a list of newspapers which had used private investigators.

I doubt the Mail has been restrained by having a guilty conscience. (I should remind readers that I write a column for the paper.) A more plausible explanation is that it dislikes writing about, or criticising, Mr Murdoch. It has a reciprocal understanding not to write about the Telegraph Media Group, which I have mentioned before. If the paper has recently carried prominent pieces about the phone hacking scandal, this may be because it judges that this growing story can scarcely be ignored. It may also be emboldened because it opposes on competition grounds Mr Murdoch's bid to acquire the whole of BSkyB.

Incidentally, the Daily Mirror may have been silent last Thursday partly because a former Labour MP called Paul Marsden had just accused the Sunday Mirror of hacking into his voicemails in 2003. It did upload a 344-word article on its website, though many of its readers are unlikely to have seen that.

Aside from no doubt high-minded motives, The Guardian and The Independent have more earthbound reasons for making so much of this story. The former has a deep-seated hatred of Mr Murdoch, and also sees the opportunity of embarrassing Mr Cameron – and hurting the Tories – over too close a relationship with the media mogul. The latter is partly driven by an atavistic dislike of Mr Murdoch, which goes back to its founding nearly 25 years ago.

All newspapers have agendas. It is an interesting reflection that the two titles with the lowest circulations – The Guardian and The Independent – have driven this story, admittedly with a lot of help from the BBC. No one can stop it now, and one day even The Sun will have to concede that there has been a scandal involving the News of the World.

Boris's hotline to the Telegraph

Benito Mussolini founded a newspaper called Il Popolo d'Italia to promote his political career and disseminate fascist ideas. Boris Johnson has no need to found a newspaper to advance himself because he already has one. It is called The Daily Telegraph, for which Boris has written in one guise or another for more than 20 years.

Last Monday he used his weekly Telegraph column to advocate introducing a fuel stabiliser. On Thursday he summoned the paper's political editor, Andrew Porter. What was billed as an interview – actually it was only published on-line – took the form of a "splash" in which Boris urged George Osborne to set out how he intends to lower personal taxation.

How many leading politicians whose party is in power have a weekly column, apart from Boris? None. How many leading politicians have a hot-line to the Telegraph's political editor and an assured position on the front page, apart from Boris? Maybe one or two. His position is unparalleled, and the Telegraph is generous enough to pay him £250,000 a year for advancing his cause.

If the Coalition's fortunes should wane, more and more arrows will whiz out of Boris's hideout at the Telegraph in the direction of the Tory leadership. I suppose the paper's management will be perfectly happy, but I can't imagine that ordinary mortal politicians such as George Osborne, who don't have a lucrative weekly pulpit in the Press, will be overjoyed to be on the receiving end of Boris's unceasing adumbrations.

The worst place for the BBC to cut

The BBC World Service is being cut back. A quarter of its staff is being sacked, and five foreign language services will be closed. A 30 million drop in its weekly global audience from 180 million to 150 million is forecast.

What madness is this? The World Service is the best thing about the BBC. It is a force for good and a force for Britain. And yet it is losing 16 per cent of its £267m government grant over the next five years, during which time the international aid budget will increase by 37 per cent to over £11bn. What is the BBC World Service but a form of aid for the oppressed? A fraction of the aid budget could preserve it.

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