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At last, the former News of the World’s most consistently heinous hack has tripped up, and been caught doing it. As a result of lying in the Tulisa Contostavlos trial, in which she was charged with a crime which he cooked up, Mazher Mahmood may now be subject to a perjury trial. He has been famously economical with the truth in many stories that have led to court cases over the years, almost always for entirely manufactured crimes. (Beckham Kids kidnap; the Red Mercury Terrorist Scare to name a couple). Unfortunately, most infamous was the ‘crime’ that he set up and ‘exposed’ in paying a young vulnerable Pakistani bowler to bowl a no-ball in a test match. I gave Lord Leveson my view that this was a non-crime, on the grounds that there was no victim, could never have been and that Mahmood himself was guilty of an act of straight forward bribery, and was a direct party to the non-crime. It was published for no other reason than to sell newspapers at a time when the News of the World was in deep trouble.
News UK were crazy to keep him on after they closed the Screws. It is puzzling to any media watchers that Mahmood has never been charged with phone hacking, since three of his well-known victims (all in failed stings) have been paid settlements for phone hacking by the former News International – that is to say: George Galloway, Guy Pelly and Kieran Fallon.
Maybe operation Weeting will get round to looking a little closer at him, now that the magic charm that has been protecting him has apparently ceased to function.
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Rebekah Brooks was still involved in a very intimate relationship with Andy Coulson and was in regular touch with him while she was away in the Middle East and he was deputising for her at the time of the Milly Dowler phone-hacking, but she had NO IDEA that it had happened. It almost defies belief, but the jury have accepted her word for it.
Stuart Kuttner, as managing editor of the News of the World for over 20 years insisted on sanctioning every chitty put in front of him and had a reputation for vetting in minute detail every cash payment that was made, but he had NO IDEA that hundreds of thousands of pounds were being paid to private investigator Glenn Mulcaire to intercept voice mails, every day of the week for five years. It seems almost beyond possibility, but the jury accepted his word for it.
In my book, News of the world? Fake Sheikhs & Royal Hackings, first published over six years ago in MAY 2008, I expressed my view that the facts as we understood them then, could leave no doubt that Coulson had been aware of what was happening on his newspaper at the time of the Clarence House phone hacking (for which Clive Goodman and Glenn Mulcaire had already been convicted). I saw him and Stuart Kuttner issue categorical denials of such knowledge to the House of Commons Culture, Media & Sports Select Committee. Of course we now know that Kuttner knew nothing at all about it, but could Coulson be guilty of perjuring himself to a parliamentary body?
He is now facing the possibility of a perjury trial in Scotland as a result of denying all knowledge of phone-hacking in the trial of Scots political chancer, Tommy Sheridan.
Courts don’t like perjurers, however well connected, viz: Jeffrey Archer and Jonathan Aitken.
Here are three unrelated facts.
Kieran Fallon, Guy Pelly & George Galloway were all paid substantial compensation by News International/News UK for having their phones hacked.
All three were close targets of the News of the World’s former (and the Sun’s current) investigative reporter, Mazher Mahmood.
Mazher Mahmood has never been arrested or charged with phone hacking offences,.
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The longer you work in the word business, the more you’ll appreciate the very special advantage of writing in English. It offers a verbal palette evolved from Celtic, Saxon, French, Latin, Greek, Old Norse, Sanskrit, Parsee, Hindi, Arabic and other tongues that have all contributed to the diversity of our lexicon. English contains a spread in shades of meaning that is unique among the languages of the world. It is this, I believe, as much as political history that has made our language the global Lingua Franca.
This great array of sometimes almost imperceptible differences in meaning has for centuries been the most powerful tool of the English writer. At the same time it has become a heavily abused weapon in the hands and mouths of politicians and journalists.
Perhaps the public have become unaware of the effect this constant abuse can have on their perception of, for instance, political affairs. If a politician expresses his disagreement with another, he isn’t said to demur, disagree, gainsay, challenge, argue or debate, he is described by the commentators as ‘attacking’ his opponent, or ‘turning his guns’ on them, hyperbolically raising the perceived aggression to a physical, even fatal level. Reporters know they’ll produce a more arresting piece, regardless of the skewing of the truth. It doesn’t suit most newspapers’ agenda to observe that opposing politicians are often, in private, pursuing the same goals in more or less the same way, but must, in the nature of adversarial politics, be seen to disagree and challenge their opponents as a matter of course.
Political journalists have developed another irritating speech tick which has twisted public perception in describing the action of a Chancellor who announces a reduction in income tax as ‘giving’ money to those who will no longer be paying so much.
He patently isn’t giving these people money; they are simply giving the exchequer less than they were previously, and will continue to give £40K, say, for every extra £100K they earn. And of the balance they keep, the exchequer gets a second bite from the VAT and duty on much of their spending.
The plain fact is that the chancellor takes money from those who pay taxes.
He gives money to those who receive benefits. It is entirely dishonest and unconstructive to suggest otherwise.
However unpopular fat-cat bankers or CEO’s of major corporations might be, or for that matter, TV presenters, footballers or rock stars, the truth is that a significant number of them are individually handing over hundreds of thousands, even millions of pounds each year to the national exchequer. Perhaps, instead of being castigated, there is a case for substantial tax payers to receive some kind of official recognition for their contribution.
If an individual has paid substantial sums up to certain specified levels – ten million, fifty million or a hundred million – during their lifetime, they should have the right to have this acknowledged publicly with a citation and honour. This would at least offer some kind of reward for what they have given, and would make the whole tax-paying experience more enjoyable. It might even discourage aggressive tax avoidance and benefit the treasury.
The Chancellor in his next budget could also consider other, as yet untapped sources of revenue.
He could raise significant sums by applying a deterrent tax to dangerous fatty foods, while ultimately decreasing the substantial sums incurred in the care and support of people debilitated by obesity.
He could apply a windfall tax to those who have received substantial fortunes neither by hard work, nor talent, nor even through inheritance – the Lottery Winners.
And he could persuade his Cabinet colleagues that it is time to recognise reality and legalise marijuana. He could then tax it, with the added benefit to the exchequer of eliminating the cost of policing, prosecuting and incarcerating criminals arising from current legislation.
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As I write this, the fellows from the Met Office have suggested that the stormy battering we’ve had since Christmas might be coming to an end; it will still rain, in a normal, Februaryish way, but not so hard and without the gales that howl. I hope they’re right, but they can’t, of course, predict how long the row will run over who was to blame for the seven week lashing and record-breaking moistness. In time, the sun will shine for a while and it will all be forgotten. Those of you who were around for the 1976 summer bake-off may recall it was gloomily prognosticated that it would take around fifty years to restore the reservoirs and aquifers to satisfactory levels. Within a year, after a fairly wet winter, they were all back to normal. A little irrational hysteria always creeps into British discussions about climate.
This time round, the media and the public have been looking for someone to blame – Lord Smith, the Prime Minister, Owen Wassaname, a Somerset Bird Sanctuary, God, Gaia, Bob Crow, Mother Earth, Punksutawney Phil and the shortcomings of the Quapaw Rain Dancers of Arkansas. With traditional, polite British myopia, few will point their finger at the probable true culprit – the Earth’s overpopulation (which causes global warming) and, by extension, the world’s medical profession – perpetrators of history’s most tragic example yet of the law of unexpected consequences.
Naturally there is a small minority of Britons who, ignoring the clear evidence (as holocaust deniers ignore the existence of Auschwitz), deny the effects of CO2 emissions on our atmosphere. But the majority who don’t should also look closely at the basic underlying cause of these emissions – the unfettered expansion of the human race. From where we are now, with the former third world fast catching up the west in profligacy and the consumption of fossil fuels, the bald science is that the price of an individual’s extra twenty or so unproductive, generally boring years, will be the ultimate demise of the human race and all that it has striven for since man first recognised the need to strive. We must look ourselves in the eye and ask if we wish to be kept alive well beyond our natural span, simply because the medicine is there. For one thing, the administering of an ever-expanding range of cures to an ever-growing number of geriatrics is not, nor ever can be, an affordable option and is a fundamental economic nonsense. The medical profession should now consider that their primary function is not to do all they can to help their older patients dodge death, but simply to alleviate pain. A surprising number of older people would appreciate and support that aim, and so would many of their offspring.
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What the BBC does matters to everyone in Britain. As the nation’s largest purveyor of entertainment, information and analysis, it is the most important single influence on our thinking. It’s also a great lumbering beast of an institution, struggling through the quagmire of its own history, traditions and self-regard. It suffers from its own internal prejudices and a complicated, contradictory socio-political stance that is at once essentially progressive while inherently change-averse.
Generally, big changes happen at the BBC only when external influences kick it into innovation. In the ’60s – some will recall – in their radio output, the old Light Programme transmogrified and split into Radios One and Two as a direct response to the success of Ronan O’Rahilly’s Radio Caroline and the other pirate stations that emerged behind it and exposed the obvious public demand for dedicated pop music stations.
Some decades later, the laid-back, unchallenging demeanour of the newly established Classic FM (with its persistent and irritating incitements to relax), forced a major shift in attitude on Radio Three, where for years presenters who talked as if they had broom handles up their bums made sure their listeners treated the music with appropriate reverence, until it was decided abruptly that they should become cuddly and have first names, even accepting that Jazz could as artistically valid as ‘Classical’ music.
However, once the internet had first made its presence felt, the BBC didn’t wait to be kicked into action. With all their licence-fee-funded news gathering resources, they plunged in and grabbed the opportunity with both hands, quickly establishing, with help from the big search engines, a position in news propagation which dominated their main rivals – the commercially funded national newspapers who were trying to plug the leak in their falling print sales revenues. It was always an unfair, uneven pitch on which to play, and as long as this unfairness exists, only the BBC can win. This is a very real and imminent danger. The commercial operators – newspapers hoping to regain their lost revenue from online advertising – are facing (despite any optimistic gurgling Rupert Murdoch makes from time to time while earning the vast proportion of his profits from other media) a relentless downward profit spiral and will not ultimately have the resources to maintain serious investigative news gathering, and simply won’t be able to deliver a news service that can compete with the BBC.
I’ve warned about this danger before, so I was heartened to see that others more influential than myself (the Home Secretary and David Dimbleby among them) have been expressing their concerns about a problem which some commentators identified over ten years ago. Whatever the BBC and its apologists may say, they cannot deny that the current state of online news in Britain looks like delivering them a powerful and potentially dangerous monopoly in news distribution. They appear to accept this as of right although the Internet was never, of course, included within the terms of Lord Reith’s original charter; I imagine that he saw the BBC as being in healthy, complementary competition with the national press – not in direct conflict.
At the same time, it could be said that what additional costs the Corporation incurs in running its websites, could be saved and channelled back into other areas of traditional broadcasting where there is deemed to be under-spending – full-length, high-quality television drama, for instance.
However truculent the national press may be about being regulated by outsiders (although Ofcom externally monitors the broadcast media without unduly restricting their ability to report news which is uncomfortable to governments), there is a vital need for a functioning Fourth Estate; to see it slowly emasculated by its inability to compete with the BBC would seriously damage our democracy.
The BBC in its reactionary mode, which likes nothing more than celebrating anniversaries of astonishingly long-running radio programmes, does demonstrate that there is value in some the of the revered old formats. Of course, opinions differ over the really hoary old shows like the Archers, or Just a Minute, but the format of the seventy-one year old Desert Island Discs still serves very well in revealing to the public the naked persona of its subjects. Music being the one truly abstract and most viscerally appealing of the arts, the choices expressed by the subjects and their reasons for them tell things about them that a normal interview seldom does. Listeners can have their views changed quite dramatically in these circumstances. Jeremy Clarkson, for instance, revealed himself as a thoughtful, quite gentle and self-effacing man, utterly unlike the crass, oafish TV and journalistic persona he has created. And years ago, listening to the late George Thomas, former Commons Speaker, Lord Tonypandy, whom I’d always rather admired, revealed a disappointing lack of interest in music and thus, I deduced, in his fellow men. It recently revealed, surprisingly, that Ed Miliband also has no real interest music, and his choice of discs reflected no more than his sympathy with the lyrics or an appreciation of non-musical elements of his choices. At least the selection hadn’t been drawn up by a gang of special advisers, as it often appears to have been for politicians, to assist in wooing hitherto unengaged sections of the electorate.
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Having been invited last April by the Met’s Weeting inquiry to come in and chat about the phone hacking he’d engaged in to secure some of his shameless Shag’n’Brag tales that appeared in The News of the World (though not the one about Gordon Taylor, which got spiked because Taylor knew he’d been hacked back in 2005, before the Murdochs and Les Hinton, and Rebekah Brooks, and Andy Coulson and Tom Crone and the rest of them told the world many times that Royal ‘Editor’ Clive Goodman was just a rotten apple in the barrel – a single rogue reporter) ‘Onan’ Thurlbeck has been called back to deal with an allegation that he tried to pressure witnesses by threatening to expose them, into putting their names to fresh and false allegations over one of his nastier stings.
But Neville Thurlbeck [ see my past blog ] appears to be a man of high moral and ethical standards. Here’s what he told Lord Leveson on Dec. 12th 2011
My experience of the News of the World is that it was a highly professional organisation. It was staffed by some of the best journalists on Fleet Street, who worked with great diligence and integrity, and continue to do so. I was proud to work alongside all of my colleagues. I have enormous respect for all of them. You know, there may have been a small caucus of people who gave us a bad reputation now. Unfortunately, the bulk of those very decent journalists have been tainted by that and ae now finding it extremely difficult to get work. But I have to say that my experience of working with the vast majority of the people on the News of the World was wonderful. They are an exemplary bunch of people who could work on any newspaper of the world.
Trust him, he knows.
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Geeky, cheeky James Murdoch has “stepped down” as Executive Chairman of News International because he lied to a British parliamentary committee about phone-hacking. It’s becoming clear that this will be incontrovertible, as the Leveson Inquiry and the Met’s own inquiries continue. It’s just as likely that young Murdoch knew about the bribes being paid by News International to the Metropolitan police while he was in charge. It is precisely this kind of criminal activity – the bribing of officials – that could damage News Corp’s US companies as a result of the USA’s Foreign Corrupt Practices Act, which forbids such activity, and Pop Murdoch needs desperately to be seen moving against the guilty parties within his British companies, and that includes James.
James had to go now, to support Rupert Rumplechops’ future claim that he reacted to clear up the mess in order to plead his innocence to authorities in the US, where he is no more liked than he is here.
James deserves no prizes or rewards for lying to the British people through Parliament and his removal has been widely welcomed.
In the meantime, he’s still running a much more important arm of News Corp, and still making a pile of dough. Unlike his sacked former star hack at the Screws, Neville “Onan the Barbarian” Thurlbeck, who (the Press Gazette tells us with a wicked shiver of schadenfreude), is to become Theatre Critic on the Surrey Comet,
Onan says, ‘In these days of flagging interest in the arts the Surrey Comet is a crucial medium to advertise and get the message across about the artistic lifeblood that’s rich and flowing through the borough.’
I don’t know about that, but he personally took a great deal of professional interest in flogging when he was busily digging up, embellishing or just inventing some of the grubbiest sensations his old employer ever published.
In case he requests any back-stage interviews with female members of the cast, I should refer the theatre’s management to my last post on Neville the Barbarian. http://www.peterburden.net/archives/900
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All the obvious hacking suspects at the now brown-bread Screws have been rounded up, EXCEPT the arch twaddle peddler of them all, the Fake Sheikh, AKA Mazher Mahmood. And yet, today Guy Pelly was given £40,000 by the paper for their criminal hacking of his phone. Pelly was a regular target of Mahmood, who spectacularly failed to nail the young club operator (and Prince William’s friend) in a hopelessly bodged sting in Las Vegas. Other high-profile hacking victims who were targeted by Mahmood include Kieran Fallon – in another failed sting.
For what sinister reason is Mahmood immune to the police’s attention?
Does he know more about their evil deeds than any of the other ‘journalists’ on the defunct rag? It’s unlikely that he’s a member of the same Masonic Lodge, unless the Masons are now recruiting from ethnic minorities.
Why have News International continued to employ him at the Sunday Times? Why did the Leveson Inquiry grant him a non-visible hearing?
Why did the Crown Prosecution service allow the Pakistani cricketers to be tried for a victimless offence and a non-crime which Mahmood had fabricated?
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Although, as both Murdochs have assured the HoC Culture Committee, the News of the World was a paltry, unimportant adjunct to their mighty media empire. Nevertheless, as James authorised the payment of the thick end of a million quid to Gordon Taylor, he must still have wondered which journalist (among his 50,000 employees) had pursued a (unpublished) story which was costing more than a paltry amount. Or did he simply assume it was the work of former Screws Royal editor, Clive Goodman (the sole ‘rogue reporter’)?
Incredibly, that is what he expected the Commons CMS committee to believe.
If I were them, I’d be feeling deeply insulted.
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