Wednesday, 20 July 2011

Phone Hacking

On Wednesday 1 Sep 2010 I was pointed by The Guardian's front page to an article on the New York Times website about Andy Coulson, the former editor of the News of the World, which contained some pretty extraordinary allegations.

Mr Coulson, was, at that time, the Prime Minister's Director of Communications.

I thought it was a big story, yet not many other people seemed to think so. Certainly I remember being surprised at how little interest there was in making a big deal about it at network level.

I asked various people why they thought no other newspaper (apart from Private Eye which had been banging on about it for moths) or broadcast organisation thought the Guardian or New York Times story was that big a deal.

I was variously told that it was perhaps because it was an "old" story, or too "media" or "villagey" (shorthand for Westminster village, the little political bubble inhabited by lobby hacks, MPs and the rest) to be of interest to the public.

Yes, but.... I thought... these are serious allegations about someone at the very heart of government. It's in the public interest. I've seen lobby hacks getting in a froth about far duller stories - why not this one?

So I thought, well... I think this is a serious story. I am a journalist. I have a BBC radio show. Why don't I do something about it? So I did.

I wrote to every MP in Surrey asking them if they would let me know their thoughts about Andy Coulson's continued employment as David Cameron's Director of Communications. With the resources I had, it's all I could do.

Surely one of them would read the New York Times article and say "actually, this is new information, it does look a bit odd - perhaps Mr Cameron should have a think about this."

I suppose, in a way, I thought it would be mutually beneficial to give them the opportunity to come on air and say something. We could discuss it, they would sound reasonable, and I would get a line (and a local angle) on a story I thought was quite important.

I wrote to all 11 Surrey MPs via email.

Maybe some of them were worried about what the whips would think if they went on the record. Maybe some of them hoped it was a situation that would go away if everyone ignored it. Maybe they thought the sort of person the PM employs is none of their business. Maybe they thought it wasn't all that important what Mr Coulson may or may not have been up to as the editor of the News of the World. Who knows? Not one of them replied.

But as I said, at the time, not many journalists seemed to think it was worth bothering about either.


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