Deafening silence on the phone-hacking scandal

Aside from the Guardian, national papers have failed to comment on revelations about the phone-tappi

The New York Times today unveiled the results of a five-month investigation into the News of the World phone-tapping allegations, revealing that the former editor Andy Coulson (now, of course, the Prime Minister's media adviser) "actively encouraged" his reporter to make the interceptions.

My colleague George Eaton has covered the story in more detail but I just wanted to highlight one aspect: the findings have received very little attention from other newspapers.

Aside from the Guardian, which published a full account of the investigation, no other national paper gave it any space. The Times, the Telegraph, the Independent, the Daily Mail, the Sun and the Mirror all failed to cover the story at all. Considering that the investigation uncovers a widespread culture of phone-hacking at a major Sunday paper, with one source saying "Everyone knew. The office cat knew", I would have thought that Fleet Street would have more to say about the low tactics employed by one of its number.

Of course, two other big stories were receiving a great deal of attention today, with further analysis of Blair's memoirs and the resignation of William Hague's special adviser occupying most journalists.

But the Times front page today featured neither story. Instead, a story entitled "Hawking: God did not create the universe" dominated, revealing that Stephen Hawking has changed his mind about the possibility of divine involvement in quantum physics. Hours later, the paper's website is still covering the reaction to this news.

For the Murdoch-owned papers included in the list above, the motivation to ignore this story isn't hard to fathom. Just as the Times recently ignored Mark Thompson's comments about Sky, Murdoch's other titles will be under orders not to inflate the criticism of their sister-publication.

But the silence on the Coulson story from the rest is almost eerie. Papers are usually desperate to expose each other's failures. Why are they holding back?

Caroline Crampton is assistant editor of the New Statesman. She writes a weekly podcast column.

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The rise of the green mayor – Sadiq Khan and the politics of clean energy

At an event at Tate Modern, Sadiq Khan pledged to clean up London's act.

On Thursday night, deep in the bowls of Tate Modern’s turbine hall, London Mayor Sadiq Khan renewed his promise to make the capital a world leader in clean energy and air. Yet his focus was as much on people as power plants – in particular, the need for local authorities to lead where central governments will not.

Khan was there to introduce the screening of a new documentary, From the Ashes, about the demise of the American coal industry. As he noted, Britain continues to battle against the legacy of fossil fuels: “In London today we burn very little coal but we are facing new air pollution challenges brought about for different reasons." 

At a time when the world's leaders are struggling to keep international agreements on climate change afloat, what can mayors do? Khan has pledged to buy only hybrid and zero-emissions buses from next year, and is working towards London becoming a zero carbon city.

Khan has, of course, also gained heroic status for being a bête noire of climate-change-denier-in-chief Donald Trump. On the US president's withdrawal from the Paris Agreement, Khan quipped: “If only he had withdrawn from Twitter.” He had more favourable things to say about the former mayor of New York and climate change activist Michael Bloomberg, who Khan said hailed from “the second greatest city in the world.”

Yet behind his humour was a serious point. Local authorities are having to pick up where both countries' central governments are leaving a void – in improving our air and supporting renewable technology and jobs. Most concerning of all, perhaps, is the way that interest groups representing business are slashing away at the regulations which protect public health, and claiming it as a virtue.

In the UK, documents leaked to Greenpeace’s energy desk show that a government-backed initiative considered proposals for reducing EU rules on fire-safety on the very day of the Grenfell Tower fire. The director of this Red Tape Initiative, Nick Tyrone, told the Guardian that these proposals were rejected. Yet government attempts to water down other EU regulations, such as the energy efficiency directive, still stand.

In America, this blame-game is even more highly charged. Republicans have sworn to replace what they describe as Obama’s “war on coal” with a war on regulation. “I am taking historic steps to lift the restrictions on American energy, to reverse government intrusion, and to cancel job-killing regulations,” Trump announced in March. While he has vowed “to promote clean air and clear water,” he has almost simultaneously signed an order to unravel the Clean Water Rule.

This rhetoric is hurting the very people it claims to protect: miners. From the Ashes shows the many ways that the industry harms wider public health, from water contamination, to air pollution. It also makes a strong case that the American coal industry is in terminal decline, regardless of possibile interventions from government or carbon capture.

Charities like Bloomberg can only do so much to pick up the pieces. The foundation, which helped fund the film, now not only helps support job training programs in coal communities after the Trump administration pulled their funding, but in recent weeks it also promised $15m to UN efforts to tackle climate change – again to help cover Trump's withdrawal from Paris Agreement. “I'm a bit worried about how many cards we're going to have to keep adding to the end of the film”, joked Antha Williams, a Bloomberg representative at the screening, with gallows humour.

Hope also lies with local governments and mayors. The publication of the mayor’s own environment strategy is coming “soon”. Speaking in panel discussion after the film, his deputy mayor for environment and energy, Shirley Rodrigues, described the move to a cleaner future as "an inevitable transition".

Confronting the troubled legacies of our fossil fuel past will not be easy. "We have our own experiences here of our coal mining communities being devastated by the closure of their mines," said Khan. But clean air begins with clean politics; maintaining old ways at the price of health is not one any government must pay. 

'From The Ashes' will premiere on National Geograhpic in the United Kingdom at 9pm on Tuesday, June 27th.

India Bourke is an environment writer and editorial assistant at the New Statesman.

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