1: The Wrong Headlines
"They caught us with dirty hands"
– Rupert Murdoch, 19 July 2011
On a clear summer's day in July 2011, a black chauffeur-driven Range Rover weaved through the streets of London towards the House of Commons. As it stopped at a red light diagonally opposite Big Ben, photographers crowded round the rear window and snapped its eight-year-old passenger; he offered up a weak smile. Rupert Murdoch was three hours early for his first appointment with British democracy.
For decades the media proprietor had operated from the shadows. A fortnight before he had been about to receive approval for his long-planned takeover of Britain's biggest television network, Sky - despite evidence of rampant law-breaking in his newspapers. The government had been secretly assisting his executives with the £7bn bid, giving them inside information and encouragement – all without the public's knowledge. The takeover would have handed Murdoch full control of 80 per cent of pay TV revenues to Murdoch, in addition to the 40 per cent of national paper sales.
But on 4 July, days before the go-ahead could be given, a damning fact emerged: Murdoch's News of the World had hacked into the mobile phone messages of a missing thirteen-year-old girl. Over coming days the public learned that his newspaper journalists had also targeted the parents of murdered children, soldiers' widows and survivors of terrorist bombings. Gutter journalism had sunk into the sewer and Murdoch had been hauled before a Parliamentary committee to do something uniquely humiliating: explain himself. Questions abounded.
One was how the Australian-born tycoon had come to exert such a grip on Britain's public life that his newspaper group had been able to cover up its misbehaviour for years. Emboldened by powerful connections, News International's executives had destroyed evidence, run smear campaigns, lied to Parliament and threatened and intimidated journalists, lawyers and politicians. Despite their efforts, campaigners had closely uncovered the truth about the 'dark arts' of newsgathering inside the organisation's headquarters in Wapping, east London.