Phone hacking coverage divides Fleet Street into those who look - and those who look away

Some papers focused on crime, others took a showbiz angle

The newspaper industry has applied for an injunction against the consideration of a historical Royal Charter on press reform
The newspaper industry has applied for an injunction against the consideration of a historical Royal Charter on press reform

There is a new spirit of freedom abroad in sections of Fleet Street, or so we are told. Jason Seiken, the editor-in-chief at Telegraph Media Group, is seen by some staff as a fresh visionary who will liberate reporters from a top-down hierarchy and even give them the chance of becoming video stars in a contest called “Telegraph’s Got Talent”.

At The Independent and London Evening Standard, the imminent launch on 31 March of television channel London Live offers similar opportunities for reporters to go on screen, while at The Guardian there is increasing activity in the sphere of live events as the paper puts the public in touch with its writers.

The group most anxious to change its image is Rupert Murdoch’s News UK (formerly News International) stable, where new chief executive Mike Darcey is leading the transformation to what he hopes will be a more modern and friendlier organisation. It has a new name, a new boss, some new editors and soon a new building at the baby Shard in south London.

This is the context in which the new press regulation system is being established. The publishers are building their Independent Press Standards Organisation while apparently ignoring a parallel process defined in the Royal Charter and set out by the Commissioner for Public Appointments.

This is also the backdrop against which newspapers are covering the phone-hacking trial at the Old Bailey, which began as one of the biggest media events of recent years and has become different things to different papers.

This morning’s coverage of a dramatic day of revelations yesterday shows great variance across the press. To The Guardian, the best angle for its page one story was the allegation by a former News of the World reporter that his former editor Andy Coulson, the ex-Downing Street spin doctor, knew about his phone-hacking abilities. The Independent took a similar approach, picturing Coulson’s accuser Dan Evans on its front page with the quote:

“I told Andy Coulson about my phone hacking skills … I was offered a News of the World job later that day.”

The Financial Times, opted for the line that the price of shares in Trinity Mirror, where Evans previously worked, had fallen by four per cent as a result of the reporter’s claims that he hacked phones for the Sunday Mirror.

The Guardian, Independent and FT were the papers that reported most vigorously on hacking.

Elsewhere, yesterday’s evidence was seen very differently - as a showbiz tale. The Times (former stable mate of the News of the World) devoted page three to evidence from the same day’s proceedings given by Jude Law, in which the actor referred to an affair between his then partner Sienna Miller and the James Bond actor Daniel Craig and admitted he was unaware of a claim that the News of the World had paid one of his relatives for information about him – a legal procedure. In a second story, The Times’s gave its take on the Evans testimony – saying that the reporter had shown that hacking also took place at another newspaper group.

Coverage of the Old Bailey events in the Daily Telegraph and the Daily Mail was not dissimilar to that of The Times. Both papers have been at the forefront of resistance to proposals by politicians and campaigners to reform press regulation in the wake of the hacking scandal. The Sun and the Daily Mirror, more understandably, also preferred the Jude angle although, to their credit, they both found a little space for Dan Evans.

As an old showbiz and former tabloid editor, as well as a defendant in the case, Mr Coulson might well have enjoyed most of Fleet Street’s treatment.

While cultural transformation might be afoot in the British national newspaper industry, the lines on hacking remain clearly defined – and unchanged.

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