The News Corp. Phone-Hacking Scandal: A Cheat Sheet


July 24, 2012
Watch Murdoch’s Scandal, FRONTLINE’s look inside the struggle over the future of News Corp.

The long-running controversy over charges of phone-hacking at the News of the World took another turn on Tuesday, when prosecutors charged eight top News Corp. figures with criminal involvement in the scandal. Here’s what you need to know:

Who’s Been Charged?

Rebekah Brooks, former editor of News of the World and The Sun, who later went on to lead News Corp.’s U.K. publishing arm; Andrew Coulson, another former News of the World editor; and five of the paper’s journalists. The group is accused of conspiring to hack the voicemails of more than 600 people over six years, beginning in October 2000 through August 2006.

According to the police, the victims include celebrities such as Angelina Jolie, Brad Pitt, Jude Law, Sienna Miller and Sadie Frost, several politicians and 13-year-old murder victim Milly Dowler. It was a July 2011 story alleging that News of the World reporters hacked into Dowler’s voicemail that kindled mass outrage and led to the current investigation.

Brooks faces additional charges of conspiracy to intercept communications in the cases of Dowler and Andrew Gilchrist, a former trade union boss, and Coulson faces four additional charges related to hacking in the Dowler case and three others including two parliamentarians. The five other journalists have also been charged in several specific cases.

Glenn Mulcaire, a private investigator hired by the paper, is also charged in relation to four of the hacking cases, including those of Dowler and Gilchrist. You can read the full list of charges from the Crown Prosecution Service here.

What They Say

All eight have denied the charges. Brooks released a statement saying that she was “distressed and angry” about the charges. “I am not guilty of these charges,” she said. “I did not authorize, nor was I aware of, phone hacking under my editorship.” She added: “The charge concerning Milly Dowler is particularly upsetting not only as it is untrue but also because I have spent my journalistic career campaigning for victims of crime. I will vigorously defend these allegations.”

Coulson said in a statement that he was “extremely disappointed” by the charges.  “At the News of the World we worked on behalf of the victims of crime, particularly violent crime, and the idea that I would sit in my office dreaming up schemes to undermine investigations is simply untrue,” he said.

How Has the Scandal Affected the News Corp. Empire?

Murdoch closed the News of the World last year following the Dowler investigation, but that didn’t stanch the flow of criticism.  As new hacking revelations were uncovered, the company moved to reassure investors that the News Corp. empire won’t be scuttled by scandal. Brooks, a Murdoch favorite, resigned last year from the company amid investigations into her alleged role in phone hacking. In June, News Corp. separated its publishing arm from its more profitable entertainment business. Analysts suggested the move was largely about boosting shareholder value — as our handy graphic on the split shows, it’s clear the publishing arm was becoming less profitable.

Murdoch himself has taken considerable personal fire. After he testified that he had known nothing about the phone-hacking scandal, he was blasted for being out of touch, and a May British parliamentary report found that the media mogul “is not a fit person to exercise the stewardship of a major international company.” Earlier this week, Murdoch resigned from the boards of his British newspapers in a move that analysts said was designed to distance the media mogul from the hacking scandal and restore shareholders’ confidence in the company. However, a company spokeswoman told the New York Times that the move was “nothing more than a corporate housecleaning exercise” and staff were reassured that Murdoch would remain involved with the papers.

What Are the Broader Political Implications of the Charges?

British Prime Minister David Cameron has been publicly embarrassed by the scandal, which has raised questions about his close relationships with top News Corp. officials. The prime minister has had a longtime friendship with Brooks and her husband, and he came under fire for his decision to hire Coulson as a communications officer in 2010, despite the hacking allegations which had already surfaced. Now, both Brooks’ and Coulson’s trials are likely stretch on for a year or more and could reveal more uncomfortable links to Cameron — who faces a general election in 2015.

Is The Scandal Over?

Not likely. Alison Levitt, the principal legal adviser to the Public Prosecutions director, said in a statement announcing the charges that there are two additional suspects under investigation. Three more likely won’t be prosecuted, she said, but “because others are now about to be charged, it would not be appropriate for me to give reasons for these decisions at this stage.”

Levitt said that officials would release the full list of hacking victims once they had all been notified.

But that isn’t the only ongoing investigation into allegations of impropriety at Murdoch papers. Yesterday, the Guardian reported that as part of a second investigation into computer hacking and privacy breaches, Scotland Yard is investigating evidence that staff members at News International papers had information taken from stolen mobile phones.

In a third ongoing investigation, authorities are looking into possibly illegal payments made by News Corp. journalists to police officers and other public officials.

And today marked the last day of testimony at the Leveson inquiry, established by Prime Minister Cameron in July 2011 to make recommendations about press standards and ethics in Britain. Leveson heard testimony from a wide range of people connected to the scandal, including Guardian reporter Nick Davies, who broke the phone-hacking story; the Dowler family; officers from Scotland Yard; actor Hugh Grant; and Rupert and James Murdoch.

Lord Justice Leveson, who oversaw the inquiry, says he will issue his report “as soon as I reasonably can.”

Sarah Childress

Sarah Childress, Former Series Senior Editor, FRONTLINE

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