Little did I realise when I was first asked to comment in our regional media on the News International ‘phone hacking allegations that I would still be at it all these months later. More to the point, it struck me after my most recent appearance on BBC WM last night that there is, so far, no end in sight and it’s possible ‘we ain’t seen nothin’ yet’.
I was there (at very short notice as it happens) to make a brief comment on the resignation of James Murdoch as BSkyB chairman. In his statement announcing the move, Murdoch said: “As attention continues to be paid to past events at News International, I am determined that the interests of BSkyB should not be undermined by matters outside the scope of this company.” He went on: “I am aware that my role as Chairman could become a lightning rod for BSkyB and I believe that my resignation will help to ensure that there is no false conflation with events at a separate organisation.”
Surely that misses the point. Isn’t the reason for his resignation the very fact that there has been ‘conflation with events at a separate organisation’? This is a man widely regarded as having done a good job with BSkyB but so tainted by what went on at ‘a separate organisation’ that he cannot continue. Just having been involved with News International and the old News of the World is enough to raise question over someone’s fitness to chair the broadcaster – and being called Murdoch just helps to pile up the doubts.
From the outset the Murdochs don’t seem to have played this with their usual surefooted aplomb. First they insisted ‘hackgate’ was the misdemeanour of one rogue journalist (a view the police, let’s not forget, seemed to be happy to go along with at the time) then they were forced to close the News of the World in an attempt to draw a line under the affair. When that failed, James was forced to leave his post as chair of News International in another diversionary move that clearly hasn’t worked (hence yesterday’s decision).
Who is going to buy the idea that cutting off the lightning rod is going to stop the bolt striking the building. And why should a sideways shuffle prevent one bit of the Murdoch empire taking a hit for the actions of ‘a separate organisation’ when that organisation’s behaviour has damaged the reputation of a whole profession.
This scandal – and the ensuing Leveson Inquiry – has already led to high-profile resignations in News International and in the Metropolitan Police. In the next phase of hearings Lord Leveson will turn his attention to the relationship between the press and politicians. Where, as my old gran used to say, will it all end?