Put News International in the dock: Support Tommy Sheridan

The News of the World’s illegal phone hacking scandal and the pernicious role of Rupert Murdoch’s News International has erupted into life again. A recent New York Times’ investigation interviewed more than a dozen former NoW reporters and editors who “described a frantic, sometimes degrading atmosphere in which some reporters openly pursued hacking or other improper tactics to satisfy demanding editors”.

Rupert Murdoch’s News International Ltd were widely criticised following an inquiry by a House of Commons select committee earlier this year. Alongside the work of the Guardian newspaper, this has helped expose widespread and illegal phone hacking by private investigators employed by the NoW.

In 2006 the then NoW Royal reporter and a private investigator were jailed for phone hacking – accessing mobile phone voicemail messages. The then editor of the NoW, Andy Coulson, who now works for Tory prime minister, David Cameron, resigned, but claimed he knew nothing of the hacking carried out by his journalists. The Metropolitan police also claimed that the number of victims of phone hacking was very small and that there was no evidence that any other reporters or editors were involved. 

These claims have now been exposed as nonsense. Paul McMullan, a former features executive on the NoW and then member of the newspaper’s investigations team, says that he personally commissioned private investigators to commit several hundred acts which could be regarded as unlawful. Moreover, that the use of illegal techniques was no secret at the paper, and that senior editors, including Coulson, were aware this was going on. Sean Hoare, a former reporter who worked for Coulson at The Sun and The News of the World, told The New York Times that he had played tape recordings of hacked messages for Coulson and that his former boss “actively encouraged me” to break into the voice-mail accounts of public figures. Hoare told the BBC Coulson “was well aware that the practice exists. To deny it is a lie, is simply a lie.”

A cascade of information is now coming into public view that indicates a huge operation, much of it illegal, bankrolled by Murdoch’s millions and clearly encouraged by senior editorial staff at NoW to get stories on high profile individuals. Daily Mail journalist, Peter Oborne who is no friend of the socialist movement explained, “It is no exaggeration to state that under the editorship of Coulson the News of the World was running what was effectively a large private intelligence service, using some of the same highly intrusive techniques as MI5. The budget stretched to hundreds of thousands of pounds a year, probably more. As deputy editor, and then editor, Coulson was routinely commissioning and editing stories to which these investigators had contributed vital information.”

The New York Times found that the Metropolitan Police had siezed 4,332 names, 2,987 mobile phone numbers and 91 PIN codes (needed for accessing voicemail messages) in the possession of the private investigator, Glenn Mulgaire when he was arrested. This alone would clearly indicate that phone hacking and other activities were indeed being practiced on an “industrial scale.” Moreover, the Met police were anxious not to investigate any further following the prosecution of one NoW reporter and one private investigator.

Andy Hayman,, who led the inquiry for the Met, now writes for the Times and other Murdoch papers. As Labour MP Paul Farrelly, a member of the select committee who looked into the phone hacking scandal commented,  “Had Mr Hayman been in charge of the Watergate inquiry, President Nixon would have safely served a full term.” We were very critical of the evasiveness displayed by Mr Yates (Hayman’s replacement) in the police evidence to us.”

Rebekah Brooks, now the chief executive of News International and a former editor of the Sun and the NoW, has admitted that she authorised payments to members of the police for stories. There is a growing catalogue of evidence to suggest a very close relationship with the sections of the police and News International – one that could have played a material role in the operational decisions of the Met’s investigation into the phone hacking activities at the NoW.   

There is a growing mood of anger, even among the cosseted elite at Westminster, at the out-of-control actions of the Murdoch Empire. The home affairs select committee and the standards and privileges committee have now initiated two new investigations. A number of leading News International executives refused to be questioned earlier this year, including NI chief executive, Rebekah Brooks.

However, MPs on the media and culture committee did discuss forcing Brooks to give evidence, using its powers, but Former Plaid Cymru MP, Adam Price said “We could have used the nuclear option. We decided not to, I think to some extent because of what I was told at the time by a senior Conservative member of the committee, who I know was in direct contact with NI execs, that if we went for her, called her back, subpoenaed her, they would go for us – which meant effectively that they would delve into our personal lives in order to punish them and I think that’s part of the reason we didn’t do it. In retrospect I think that’s regrettable,”

This underlines why it cannot be left to the MPs and the House of Commons or the Metropolitan police to look into the actions of the Murdoch Empire. Instead a genuine full public inquiry needs to be held into the activities of News International which must involve all police files and information held in relation to the NoW’s actions being handed over. Such an inquiry needs to be open and democratic and made up of elected and accountable representatives, including from the workers’ and trade union movement.

Breaking the power of the beast
“They, the barons of the media with their red-topped assassins, are the biggest beasts in the modern jungle. They have no predators, they are untouchable, they laugh at the law, they sneer at parliament, they have the power to hurt us and they do with gusto and precision.”
Labour MP Tom Watson 9th September 2010

The power of the Murdoch machine continues to grow. News International’s four UK papers; The Sun, The Times, Sunday Times and the News of the World, hold a 37% share of all newspaper circulation. Sky TV is already the biggest broadcaster in terms of revenue – £5.9 billion last year alone with profits just under £1 billion. This puts Sky ahead of the BBC and ITN in terms of financial resources. Murdoch is desperate to win 100% control of BSkyB (he currently holds 40%), so he can access the full cash-cow that is Sky TV.

Murdoch has been lobbying Cameron and the new government to allow NI to own BSkyB outright, which would give then an unassailable position as the UK’s most powerful broadcaster, at least financially. Alongside this, News International executives, particularly Murdoch junior, have launched a broadside against the BBC and its “monopoly”, calling for an end to licence fee payments going to the corporation. Their aim is to establish a totally dominant position for not just their titles, but also the political ideology they promote – free market capitalism and a virulent hostility to the interests of the working class.

The fact that both under Tony Blair and now David Cameron there is an open door policy at No 10 provided to Rupert Murdoch is yet another indication of the huge influence that the billionaires’ empire wields.

Under capitalism, our media is neither fair nor impartial – but ultimately is there to defend the prevailing capitalist system and the abuse of power and control by a rich and powerful elite.

Especially today, in the wake of a huge economic crisis for capitalism the media will aim to peddle the lie that working class people should pay for a crisis they did not create.

The Sun’s editorial from the 14th September 2010 for example is a typical anti-union rant and an example of what is to come from Murdoch’s press  – “Raving Lefties like Bob Crow, the railway wrecker, want to smash the Coalition. Civil service union leader Mark Serwotka sees no reason to cut a single penny or a single job from the public sector. What planet are they all on? How do they think we can go on as before? THERE IS NO MONEY. “

At the same time they are silent about the rich bankers and top bosses whose bonuses are back to pre-crash levels, in stark contrast to the millions who are facing unemployment and savage cuts in public services.

Its vital that the have a democratic press. To achieve that we need to end the control by the billionaire media moguls who control so-much of what is seen and heard on our TV screens, radio, newspapers and even the internet. A wide-ranging programme of bringing these giants into democratic public ownership is the only way to break their power.

It would then be possible to ensure democratic access to the press based on an allocation to different ideas, including socialist views, dependent on their levels of public support. This could ensure an end to the scandalous abuse of power perpetrated by the billionaire media monsters.

Defend Tommy and Gail Sheridan
In 2007 a listening device was found in socialist MSP Tommy Sheridan’s car. Lothian and Borders police described it as a “viable” device. No further action has been taken against those responsible for planting it in the car. Was this yet another example of News of the Worlds illegal methods? Tommy Sheridan defeated the NoW in a civil defamation case in 2006 – and was awarded £200,000 by the jury.

Following that victory a 4 year long onslaught of victimisation, intimidation and persecution has been carried out by a combination of the Crown office and Lothian and Borders police – encouraged by News International. Tommy and Gail Sheridan’s trial on charges of perjury – relating to the 2006 civil case – is due to start on Monday 4th October in Glasgow.

More than four years after Tommy’s defamation victory over the Murdoch rag the News of the World, a two year police investigation which cost over £2 million and tens of thousands of hours of police officers time, an eight week trial is to take place.

In what is widely seen as a crude and scandalous politically motivated vendetta, millions of pounds more is to be squandered pursuing a prosecution of Scotland’s most well known socialist.

And in whose interests? Certainly not those working class communities across Scotland  facing savage spending cuts to their public services, jobs and benefits.

They will rightly ask why millions can be found to fund a witch hunt against a socialist fighter, while schools and community facilities are being threatened with the axe.

The truth is that for the rich and powerful interests who have led this witch hunt there are scores to settle.

For them this is payback for Tommy Sheridan’s leading role during the mass anti-poll tax movement in the late 80’s and early ‘90’s.

A mass movement of ordinary working class men and women that cost the then prime minster, Margaret Thatcher, her job.

Tommy Sheridan rubbed salt into the gaping wounds of the political and legal elite by being elected from his prison cell in Saughton Prison to Glasgow City Council in 1992.

It’s also payback for being a thorn in the side of the establishment as a socialist MSP in the Scottish parliament for 10 years – when he lived as a workers’ MSP on a workers wage.

But above the ruling class want to inflict a defeat on Tommy Sheridan in order to send out a warning to every worker, every trade unionist and every socialist – don’t stand up and fight. Accept the onslaught of cuts and attacks while the millionaires and billionaires walk away without a scratch from an economic crisis they created.

That’s why Solidarity and Socialist Party Scotland are giving our 100% support to Tommy Sheridan and his partner Gail. It’s why we want to see the reactionary billionaire Rupert Murdoch, the News of the World and the Scottish legal establishment defeated – because they represent the rich and powerful and the enemies of working class people.

There is only one side any genuine socialist and trade unionist can be on. And that’s the side of Tommy and Gail Sheridan.

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