Hacking Revelations Mount Against British Tabloids

Police have told Prince Charles and his wife Camilla that the voicemail on their mobile phones was likely hacked by Rupert Murdoch's News of the World. And former Prime Minister Gordon Brown says his family's medical records were illegally obtained by another Murdoch tabloid. This all spells big trouble for the planned big expansion of Murdoch's News Corp. television holdings.

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MARY LOUISE KELLY, host:

We've got more revelations in the British newspaper hacking scandal. Police have told Prince Charles and his wife Camilla that the voicemail on their mobile phones was likely hacked by Rupert Murdoch's News of the World. And former Prime Minister Gordon Brown now says his family's medical records were illegally obtained by another Murdoch tabloid. This all spells big trouble for the planned big expansion of Murdoch's News Corp. television holdings.

Well, NPR's media correspondent David Folkenflik is on the line now from London.

Hey, David.

DAVID FOLKENFLIK: Hey, Mary Louise.

KELLY: So what do we know about these new twists, Prince Charles' phone hacked again?

FOLKENFLIK: Right. Where to start? I mean, that's just the starting point today. So then you've also got evidence found in emails that the News of the World paid members of the Royal Security Force for information about the Queen's movements. That's a very serious security breach for the head of state.

Former Prime Minister Gordon Brown says that other Murdoch papers breached his privacy. So you got the prestigious Sunday Times - which is one of their upper-end papers owned by Mr. Murdoch's News Corp. - that people for that paper misrepresented themselves to get his financial records. And Mr. Brown also says that the Sun tabloid illegally obtained his son's medical records.

It was when they first got diagnosis that his young toddler, his son had cystic fibrosis. The story ran in the Sun. It was shattering to the Browns. The editor at the time is now the CEO of Murdoch's British newspapers. Her name is Rebekah Brooks. And there's outrage throughout the UK about that story all over again.

KELLY: Outrage all over again. And News Corp., of course, is trying to contain the scandal. They have already shut down News of the World, one of the tabloids you mentioned. Is the sense now that that is not going to be enough?

FOLKENFLIK: Well, it's certainly badly impairs the ability to do that. The question of the purchase was going to sail through. The government of Prime Minister David Cameron, who won with strong support from the Murdochs, now Mr. Cameron...

KELLY: This is the purchase of BSkyB, the satellite broadcaster.

FOLKENFLIK: That's correct.

KELLY: Mm-hmm.

FOLKENFLIK: News Corp. owns about 39 percent of BSkyB. It's the largest broadcaster in the UK, and now he was going to take over all of it. It's been referred to a regulator. That's going to wrap it up for months. Another regulator, an independent agency, has signaled it wants to take look at it, as well. And it's also said that it might be worth waiting until all the criminal investigations involved. Well, that could take months. That could take a couple years. So that really throws the plans to take it over swiftly in disarray.

KELLY: It sounds like just a huge mess. What's your sense, David, of where Rupert Murdoch stands at this point? Is he going to survive? Is the media empire going to survive all of this?

FOLKENFLIK: Well, certainly, here in the UK, it's badly damaged him. There are questions about what senior executives knew, including Rupert Murdoch's son James, who's the head of British operations for News Corp., as well as Les Hinton, who used to be British executive over newspapers in this country and is now publisher of the Wall Street Journal, which Mr. Murdoch purchased about four years ago.

The Labour Party, which had, just like the Conservatives, sought the approval of the Murdoch tabloids for years, it's now openly hostile, opposing the BSkyB bid, calling for account, calling for Rebekah Brooks, the head of the British newspaper division of News Corp. to resign. There's outright speculation in papers here in the UK, including the ones owned by Mr. Murdoch, that he may pull out of the British newspaper business altogether. And there's this line in King Lear that goes: Like flies to wanton boys, are we to the gods.

The lessons here is that the tabloid gods have been able to play with people from high to low, from prime ministers and royals to an abducted school girl, and those gods now seem to have come tumbling down a little bit here in London.

KELLY: David, thanks very much.

FOLKENFLIK: You bet.

KELLY: That's NPR's David Folkenflik, reporting from London on more revelations in the newspaper hacking scandal.

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