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Ethics of British press to be probed after phone hacking scandal

Published time: July 08, 2011 11:35
Edited time: July 08, 2011 18:56

The ethics and practices of the UK press have come under suspicion after a phone-hacking scandal led to the closing of the British tabloid The News of the World. Prime Minister Cameron has promised a full inquiry into the details of the scandal.

­A public inquiry into the phone hacking by the News of the World will be carried out, British Prime Minister David Cameron said at a news conference on Friday, following Rupert Murdoch’s announcement that the scandalous tabloid will be shut down.

Cameron admitted that British politicians had been "turning a blind eye" to the phone hacking scandal for too long and promised a full investigation into what exactly was going on at the News of the World.

The police must feel they can go where they need and question everyone to get to the bottom of this,” said Cameron.

A scandal over the News of the World tapping the phones of several celebrities got a new twist when The Guardian published a report claiming some journalists at the News of the World allegedly hacked the phone of 13-year-old Milly Dowler, who was kidnapped and murdered in 2002. According to The Guardian, the tabloid bribed the police and hacked the voicemails of the teenager, even deleting some of them, and therefore seriously hampered the investigation.

Cameron said the whole country was shocked by the revelations of the phone hacking scandal and said it was "despicable" that Milly Dowler’s phone was involved.

Commenting on Rupert Murdoch’s promise on Thursday to close the News of the World, which belongs to the media tycoon, Cameron argued that it is not only one paper that is to blame for using such practices. “What needs to change is not the name of the paper or the letterhead but the practices that go on.”

In regards to this, the British Premier announced that a second inquiry will be launched to examine the "culture, ethics and practices of the British press".

He also suggested that a new press watchdog should be established, as the scandal with the News of the World revealed that the body responsible for monitoring the press now, the Press Complaints Commission (PCC), was "ineffective and lacking in rigor".

Cameron believes the new watchdog should show itself to be independent of the press and politicians, and should have public confidence unlike the PCC.

Police are looking into allegations that a News International executive deleted millions of emails from the internal archive in order to whiten the newspaper’s reputation that was tarnished during the phone hacking scandal.

According to The Guardian, the archive contains emails from January 2005 onwards. It is believed some of the emails would have proved the News of the World reporters, editors and outsiders, including private investigators kept in touch on a daily basis. A great number of archive emails were allegedly deleted on two occasions by a senior executive, leaving just some available for public disclosure.

Two former Cameron aides arrested

­Andy Coulson, former editor of the News of the World and former communications director for David Cameron, was arrested on Friday by London police. Officers said Coulson was detained “on suspicion of conspiring to intercept communications” and “on suspicion of corruption”.

Coulson was editor-in-chief at the News of the World from 2003 until 2007, and the police believe Coulson knew about his employees tapping other people’s phones and maybe even participated in this illegal activity himself.

Coulson resigned from the post of editor in 2007 when Clive Goodman, the News of the World's former royal editor, was sentenced to four months in jail for phone hacking. Coulson claims he was unaware of the phone hacking in his office.

Clive Goodman was rearrested on Friday over allegations of bribing police. The arrest has already been confirmed by London police. Detectives have meanwhile ransacked his house in the south of London.

The British media point out that the scandal with the News of the World and Coulson’s alleged participation in the phone hacking may cast a shadow on the reputation of David Cameron with whom Coulson worked as communications director from 2007 to 2011.

Coulson resigned as Downing Street's Director of Communications in January 2011 after mounting pressure over allegations he knew about the phone hacking while working for the News of the World.

Cameron faced criticism at Friday’s conference over employing Coulson as his spokesman after the phone hacking scandal.

I decided to give him a second chance but the second chance didn't work. The decision to hire him was mine and mine alone," said Cameron, defending his move.

The British leader, however, refused to apologize for the "appalling error of judgment" in hiring Coulson, when asked to do so by Labour Party leader Ed Miliband.