A new low for the News of the World

The revelation that the tabloid hacked Milly Dowler's phone could be a tipping point in the scandal.

The grim news that Milly Dowler's phone was hacked by the News of the World could be a tipping point in the phone hacking scandal. It represents a new low for the tabloid and gives the lie to the claim that only publicity hungry celebrities were targeted.

Not only did private investigators illegally hack Dowler's voice mail, they subsequently deleted messages left on her phone (in order to access more), leading her family to mistakenly believe that she was still alive. As the Guardian notes:

[W]hen her friends and family called again and discovered that her voicemail had been cleared, they concluded that this must have been done by Milly herself and, therefore, that she must still be alive. But she was not. The interference created false hope and extra agony for those who were misled by it.

The tabloid also stands accused of interfering with the course of a police investigation by destroying potentially valuable evidence. Remarkably, Surrey Police chose not to take action against the NoW because this was only "one example of tabloid misbehaviour".

Even Chris Morris couldn't do justice to the fact that all of this coincided with the tabloid's campaign against paedophiles.

It's quite possible that we'll now see a Liverpool-style boycott of the paper across the country. In addition, more will question the government's decision to waive through Murdoch's takeover of BSkyB. As the shadow culture secretary, Ivan Lewis, recently noted: "[T]he current legal framework does not allow serious admissions of criminal conduct by News International to be taken into account when considering Newscorp's acquisition of BSkyB." The question the government will have to answer is why this was the case.

Rebekah Brooks, who was NoW editor at the time, and is now chief executive of News International, has so far managed to remain in her post. But today's developments mean her position looks increasingly untenable.

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

Getty
Show Hide image

The economics of outrage: Why you haven't seen the end of Katie Hopkins

Her distasteful tweet may have cost her a job at LBC, but this isn't the last we've seen of Britain's biggest troll. 

Another atrocity, other surge of grief and fear, and there like clockwork was the UK’s biggest troll. Hours after the explosion at the Manchester Arena that killed 22 mostly young and female concert goers, Katie Hopkins weighed in with a very on-brand tweet calling for a “final solution” to the complex issue of terrorism.

She quickly deleted it, replacing the offending phrase with the words “true solution”, but did not tone down the essentially fascist message. Few thought it had been an innocent mistake on the part of someone unaware of the historical connotations of those two words.  And no matter how many urged their fellow web users not to give Hopkins the attention she craved, it still sparked angry tweets, condemnatory news articles and even reports to the police.

Hopkins has lost her presenting job at LBC radio, but she is yet to lose her column at Mail Online, and it’s quite likely she won’t.

Mail Online and its print counterpart The Daily Mail have regularly shown they are prepared to go down the deliberately divisive path Hopkins was signposting. But even if the site's managing editor Martin Clarke was secretly a liberal sandal-wearer, there are also very good economic reasons for Mail Online to stick with her. The extreme and outrageous is great at gaining attention, and attention is what makes money for Mail Online.

It is ironic that Hopkins’s career was initially helped by TV’s attempts to provide balance. Producers could rely on her to provide a counterweight to even the most committed and rational bleeding-heart liberal.

As Patrick Smith, a former media specialist who is currently a senior reporter at BuzzFeed News points out: “It’s very difficult for producers who are legally bound to be balanced, they will sometimes literally have lawyers in the room.”

“That in a way is why some people who are skirting very close or beyond the bounds of taste and decency get on air.”

But while TV may have made Hopkins, it is online where her extreme views perform best.  As digital publishers have learned, the best way to get the shares, clicks and page views that make them money is to provoke an emotional response. And there are few things as good at provoking an emotional response as extreme and outrageous political views.

And in many ways it doesn’t matter whether that response is negative or positive. Those who complain about what Hopkins says are also the ones who draw attention to it – many will read what she writes in order to know exactly why they should hate her.

Of course using outrageous views as a sales tactic is not confined to the web – The Daily Mail prints columns by Sarah Vine for a reason - but the risks of pushing the boundaries of taste and decency are greater in a linear, analogue world. Cancelling a newspaper subscription or changing radio station is a simpler and often longer-lasting act than pledging to never click on a tempting link on Twitter or Facebook. LBC may have had far more to lose from sticking with Hopkins than Mail Online does, and much less to gain. Someone prepared to say what Hopkins says will not be out of work for long. 

0800 7318496