Saturday, July 16, 2011

Cell phones

Steven King wrote a novel about cell phones called Cell. Everyone who was using their phone at a particular time was turned into a zombie. I believe it's true. I've seen them on the train from London. "Hello. I'm on the train. I'm shouting in case anyone else in the carriage can't hear me!"

Now a major storm has arisen over cell phone hacking. I have a confession. I own a cell phone. Early in its life I managed to press a button which stopped it ringing and it hasn't rung since. I have no idea how to restore its ring nor any interest in doing so. It has become an out-only phone; very useful for carrying in the car in case of a breakdown.

Apparently, it is possible to listen to the voice-mail of other people's cell phones. All you do is ring the number when no-one is available and you get switched to voice mail. Then you enter the manufacturer's default number and the phone gives you access to previous voice mail. It is easily guarded against by simply changing the default code to one you have made up. Journalists have known about this for many years and so have most members of the public like me, who know very little else about cell phones. Some years ago the England football manager was discovered to be having an affair with a TV weather girl. It was by this sort of phone hacking that the newspaper (I think the Daily Mail) found out about it. I'm surprised it still goes on when the remedy is so obvious, but apparently it does.

This simple activity has just brought down a major newspaper and severely affected an important industry. The News of the World was the largest selling British Newspaper. Its forte was exposing the sexual peccadillo's of Church of England clerics. I learned to read at the age of 2 by looking at the football results in the News of the World. Sad to see it go. Although this newspaper was the greatest offender in the phone hacking stakes it was by no means the only one. Indeed the Trinity Mirror Group (which owns the Daily Mirror) and the Associated Newspapers Group (which owns the Daily Mail) have been more involved in phone hacking than the News International Group (which owns the News of the World and the Sun). You might ask why this has all redounded on News International.

The answer is complex. First, the people who were affected by phone hacking are the sort of people who nobody cares about; buffoons like John Prescott and bimbos like Sienna Miller (I can hear you asking 'who she?').

Second, because nobody really cared, the police dragged their heels over the affair; worse than that they were in a cosy relationship with journalists, accepting illegal payments for information and not asking too many questions.

Third a particular episode of phone hacking surfaced at a murder trial. It appears that the phone of missing schoolgirl, Millie Dowler, was hacked and voice mail removed to unblock a full phone. This gave the impression that Millie was still alive - much to the distress of her parents. This discovery led to the discovery that other victims had been in similar situation, touching on the two little girls murdered at Souham, soldiers killed in Afghanistan and even victims of 7/7 and 9/11. The public may not care about buffoons and bimbos, but they certainly do about murder victims, shot soldiers and victims of atrocities.

Fourth, Rupert Murdoch is a hate-figure in left-wing circles. At the last general election he changed sides. His newspapers had been supporting his friend Tony Blair previously, but he switched to supporting his new friend David Cameron. Betrayal is a common feature of left-wing politics (read about Stalinist USSR) and this campaign has been driven by the Guardian and the BBC. They are even angry that Tony Blair was seduced by Murdoch in the first place - but would he have won three elections without Murdoch?

I expect that when the Judicial Enquiry reports we shall see that all red-top newspapers were equally at fault and there will be some rearrangement of the deck chairs. Probably the police will carry the can. The Press Complaints Commission will have new staff and a slightly different remit. The Parliamentary Lobby system will change and politicians will find more underhand ways to get into bed with journalists.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

My thoughts exactly, and I have not followed this with much fervor! In my view, the whole thing is political!