When it was revealed that the News of the World had hacked into not only the phones of celebrities, but the phones of the average Joe Public – especially when these average Joes were, tragically, murdered schoolgirls – phonehacking was front and centre the focus of this current industry-wide scandal in journalism.
But such is the pace of this, one of the biggest media stories ever to hit this country, that we’ve now got a much larger dilemma up ahead.
While phone hacking has outraged the public, what are more disconcerting are the close links between News Corporation and the government, and News International journalists and the police. Phonehacking is illegal, and if and when we find those responsible, they can be proven guilty. There is difficulty in doing that of course, but it is a rather black-and-white affair.
But as for the relationships between journalists and those that run the country – well, that’s a whole bundle of grey.
Paying police for confidential information; informing police in exchange for evidence; ensuring all of this goes on as if it were a 40s noir. Those guilty of the above should indeed be sinned against, for they have sinned. But we must take this into context – investigative journalism does not, and will not, survive without close links between the journalists and the police. It is just that these relationships have recently turned from being professional, working relationships into ones ensconced in darkness, mystery and dodgy dealings.
Everyone who dealt in these matters knew they were doing so in an unprofessional, law-breaking manner, but the argument many attest to is that these were investigative journalists just doing their jobs. Well, they were, but they were doing them wrong.
Police corruption is fixable: if an uncorrupt body takes control of the situation in its judiciary review. Yet unlike hacking, keeping good ties with the police are crucial to a transparent, free and public interest led press. These relationships just have to be conducted in the right way – and for all, not just the select few who wished to negotiate in the backs of alleys in the early hours of the morning.
What it is going to provide the main bulk of the news in the coming week is the reaction from David Cameron and his conservative party; how Miliband, Brown and Blair react to equally damaging allegations; and what exactly the Lib Dems will say once they break cover.
Of course, there could be plenty more twists during the next seven days.
But we have come to the point where the potential for our Prime Minister to resign is at least being speculated on. Late last night (Monday), the BBC reported that Andy Coulson had taken informal advice from Neil Wallis during the run-up to the 2010 elections, when Coulson was employed by Cameron. This is the opportunity to link phone hacing directly to the Prime Minister for the first time. If Wallis is found guilty of phone hacking, and if it is proven that Coulson knew of the hacking in his time as editor of the News of the World, and that Cameron then hired Coulson (ignorant or not of the facts, he knew the claims) then we could very well see a ministerial shake-up very soon. It really has become that easy to get from A to B.
Another factor to include is the stone cold silence of the Lib Dems over the scandal. It would be very easy for them to jump ship and jump out of the coalition, if they see that the Conservative party are sailing too close to the wind. Whether they turn to Miliband’s labour to create a counter-coaltion, or if another elections is sprung altogether, no-one can guess.
These might seem speculative ifs and buts, but that is just how large this phone hacking scandal has grown.
So much so that the phone hacking itself is being moved to the margins, as the role news media holds in society has been thrust into the spotlight.