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New Statesman: Hugh Grant turns the tables on the phone hackers

Hugh Grant secretly recorded a conversation with former News of the World deputy features editor Paul McMullen, during which the reporter claimed that former NotW editor Rebekah Brooks “absolutely” knew about illegal phone hacking.

The revelation appears in an article Grant has written for the New Statesman, which is guest-edited this week by the actor’s former partner Jemima Khan.

Grant, who believes he was himself a victim of phone hacking, ended up talking to McMullan when his “midlife crisis car” broke down in a Kent village just before Christmas and he was forced to accept a lift from the reporter, who was following him.

He was Paul McMullan, one of two ex-NoW hacks who had blown the whistle (in the Guardian and on Channel 4’s Dispatches) on the full extent of phone-hacking at the paper, particularly under its former editor Andy Coulson. This was interesting, as I had been a victim – a fact he confirmed as we drove along. He also had an unusual defence of the practice: that phone hacking was a price you had to pay for living in a free society. I asked how that worked exactly, but we ran out of time, and next thing we had arrived and he was asking me if I would pose for a photo with him, “not for publication, just for the wall of the pub”.

I agreed and the picture duly appeared in the Mail on Sunday that weekend with his creative version of the encounter. He had asked me to drop into his pub some time. So when, some months later, Jemima asked me to write a piece for this paper, it occurred to me it might be interesting to take him up on his invitation.

So Grant returned to the the Castle Inn Pub in Dover wearing a hidden microphone, and the fruits of his chat with McMullan will be published in this week’s New Statesman. An edited version is at this link.

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MediaGuardian: Sun editor Rebekah Wade named chief executive of News International

June 23rd, 2009 | No Comments | Posted by in Editors' pick, Newspapers

“Rebekah Wade, the editor of the Sun, is to become chief executive of News International from September.”

MediaGuardian predicted the move in March earlier this year.

Full story at this link…

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It’s old-fashioned journalism from the bunker and there’s more to come, says Telegraph

June 9th, 2009 | 5 Comments | Posted by in Events, Journalism

So who wants the films rights to MPs’ expenses? It’s on a far less grave subject, but maybe it will be like the 9/11 films; the aftermath still permeating society, when the scripts are sold and production started. The next general election may not even have happened. Gordon Brown could still be Prime Minister. Just.

Or perhaps (Sir? ‘Lord’ is less likely given the target) Will Lewis’ memoirs will have been on sale for a while first, before the 21st century’s equivalent of ‘All the President’s Men’ is released, to allow the dust to settle.

Whichever way, this archetypal British plot is the stuff of a (Working Title, maybe) director’s dream; even if the journalism itself is markedly not Watergate, as most hardened investigative hacks and other journalists at rival titles are quick to point out. The gate of significance in this story is the one at the end of the second home’s garden path. No Deep Throat, just Deep Pockets.

A small group of privileged Telegraph journalists has been embedded from early till late in what’s apparently known as ‘the bunker’ – a room separate from the main newsroom, away from the ‘hub and spokes’, away from the Twitterfall graphic projected on the wall – sifting through the details of thousands upon thousands of supermarket, DIY store and restaurant receipts and other documents.

It’s got all the ingredients for the heroic hack flick: the furtive deal with the middle man and the original whistleblower, for an undisclosed sum (no doubt to be revealed in Lewis’ or possibly Ben Brogan’s memoirs), at one point rumoured to be £300,000.

While this whole expose – the ‘Expenses Files’ as the Telegraph first called it – is most definitely built on a film-like fantasy, it is grounded in career-breaking political change, and last night’s audience at the Frontline Club for a debate on the paper’s handling of the stories, got a little insight into the process; a rare chance, as the paper has mainly been very quiet on just how it’s done it.

The ‘consequences were massively in the public interest,’ argued the Telegraph’s assistant editor, Andrew Pierce, who popped up on BBC Breakfast news this morning as well. “It was brilliant, brilliant old fashioned journalism (…) at its finest.

“It’s so exciting – you were aware you had stuff, it was going to change things, and boy it has…

“Of course it’s been terrific for the circulation – we’re a newspaper and we’re there to make sales.”

According to Pierce, 240 broadsheet pages covering the story have been published so far.

“So far we’ve published one correction: we got a house mixed up. I’d say in terms of journalism that ain’t a bad ratio.”

That was disputed by one member of last night’s panel, Stephen Tall, editor-at-large for the Liberal Democrat Voice website; he’s unlikely to get a cameo as it would rather spoil the plot.

Tall’s complaint was that three stories on Liberal Democrats have been misrepresented in separate stories and received insufficient apology; something Journalism.co.uk will follow up on elsewhere, once we’ve moved on from this romanticised big screen analogy.

Back to the glory: Pierce described how journalists from around the world had been to peek at the unfolding scene of action – they’ve had camera crews from Turkey, Thailand and China, in for visits, he said.

There’s a ‘sense of astonishment’, he added. ‘They thought quaint old Britain’, the mother of all democracies, ‘was squeaky clean.’

The story, Pierce claimed, ‘has reverberated all the way around the world’. “We actually are going to get this sorted out. Were MPs really able to set their own pay levels? Their own expenses levels? And it was all tax free.”

‘Old-fashioned journalism lives on’ has become the war cry of the Telegraph and its champions, in defence of the manner in which it acquired and dealt with the data.

For raw blogging it is not. Any CAR is kept secret in-house. Sharing the process? Pah! This is as far away from a Jarvian vision of journalism built-in-beta as you can imagine. While other news operations – the Telegraph’s own included – increasingly open up the inner workings (former Telegraph editor Martin Newland’s team at The National in Abu Dhabi tweeted live from a significant meeting yesterday morning) not a social media peep comes from the bunker till the paper arrives back from the printers.

There might be little teasers on the site with which to taunt their rivals, but for the full meaty, pictorial evidence it’s paper first, online second. Rivals, Pierce said, have to ‘wait for the second edition before they rip it off’.

Nobody has it confirmed how much they officially coughed up for the story – ‘we don’t use the words bought or paid,’ said Pierce. Though last night’s host, Guardian blogger and journalism professor Roy Greenslade, twice slipped in a speculative reference to £75,000, Pierce refused to be drawn.

“Fleet Street has existed for years on leaks,” said Pierce, as justification. “We will stick to our guns (…) and not discuss whether money changed hands.”

Enter the hard done by heroine of the piece: Heather Brooke. Much lauded and widely respected freedom of information campaigner, she and other journalists – one from the Sunday Telegraph (Ben Leapman); one from the Times (Jonathan Ungoed-Thomas) – did the mind-numbingly boring hours of Freedom of Information requests and tedious legal battles over several years, only to lose the scoop to a chequebook.

Will she get a part in the government-destroyed-by-dodgy-expenses film? If Independent editor, Roger Alton, was casting she certainly would. In fact, she deserves a damehood, he declared last night.

A member of the audience asked whether Alton would have paid for the information himself if he had had the chance. Unlike his last foray to the Frontline, the Independent editor knew he was being filmed this time. A pause for ethical reflection before he answered, then:

“We’ve barely got enough money to cover a football match for Queens Park Rangers. Take a wild guess! Any journalist would cut off their left arm and pickle it in balsamic vinegar!”

That’s a yes then, we presume.

Apparently, Sun editor Rebekah Wade turned it down after being told there wasn’t much chance of a Jacqui Smith style porn revelation or a cabinet resignation. “She asked ‘would this bring down a cabinet minster?’ And she was told it wouldn’t,” claimed Pierce. How wrong the data tout(s) were about their own stuff.

More embarrassing for the Telegraph, though Pierce said he knew nothing of it, was Brooke’s revelation that the Sunday Telegraph had refused to back their man financially, a case which Brooke, Leapman and Ungoed-Thomas finally won in the High Court – the judge ordered disclosure of all receipts and claims of the 14 MPs in original requests, along with the addresses of their second homes.

Update: Ben Leapman responds on Jon Slattery’s blog here: “I never asked my employer to pay for a lawyer because I took the view that journalists ought, in principle, be able to go to FoI tribunals themselves without the barrier of having to pay. I also took the view, probably rather arrogantly, that in this emerging field of law I was perfectly capable of putting the arguments directly without a lawyer.” Leapman was represented by solicitor advocate Simon McKay ‘very ably for no fee’ in the High Court, he writes.

Publication of all MPs’ expense claims are now forthcoming, after redaction (‘a posh word for tippexing out,’ said Pierce.) In July 2008, ‘parliament went against the court by exempting some information – MPs’ addresses – from disclosure,’ the Guardian reported.

Now, for a name for our blockbuster. ‘The Month Before Redaction‘? ‘Bunker on Buckingham Palace Road‘? ‘646 Expense Forms and a Re-shuffle‘? I can predict a more likely tag line at least, the now all too familiar: ‘They said they acted within the rules’.

The ending to this expenses epic is not yet known, but there won’t be many happy endings in Parliament. Pierce promises more stories, with no firm end date, but unsurprisingly, didn’t give any hint of what lies ahead. Could an even bigger scoop be on its way? Who’s left?

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Rebekah Wade’s first public speech in full

January 27th, 2009 | 2 Comments | Posted by in Events, Journalism, Newspapers

If the Wordle and other coverage isn’t enough, here’s the Hugh Cudlipp speech by the editor of the Sun, Rebekah Wade, in full [note: may have differed very slightly in actual delivery]:

The challenging future of national and regional newspapers is now the staple diet of media commentators.

If you have been reading the press writing about the press you’d all be forgiven for questioning your choice of career.

I’m not denying we’re in a tough place – we are.

But I don’t want to use this speech to make grand statements on the future of our industry.

I want to talk to you about journalism.

More »

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Sun editor Rebekah Wade’s Hugh Cudlipp lecture: Wordle

January 26th, 2009 | 3 Comments | Posted by in Events, Newspapers

All you really need to know about UK tabloid The Sun‘s editor Rebekah Wade‘s Hugh Cudlipp lecture, courtesy of Wordle (hat tip to Jason Cobb). Or read the speech in full here.

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Independent.co.uk: Interview with the female editor of the Daily Sport

October 13th, 2008 | No Comments | Posted by in Editors' pick

An interview with Pam McVitie, the new editor of the Daily Sport. That means there are now three women editing titles which rely on scantily clad female content: McVitie, the Sun’s Rebekah Wade and the Daily Star’s Dawn Neesom.

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Lords review of media is in danger of achieving nothing

January 31st, 2008 | 1 Comment | Posted by in Journalism, Newspapers, Online Journalism

While yesterday’s meeting of the House of Lords Communications Committee was less of a nostalgia trip than last week’s session, it seems uncertain what value the evidence given can be to the Lords’ review of media ownership.

First up was Sir Christopher Meyer, chairman of the Press Complaints Commission (PCC). Having asked Meyer to explain what the PCC does – and test this out with a few case studies – the moment was ripe for some questions on how the PCC is coping with regulating newspapers online and their video content.

Unfortunately, no such probing was done – as with previous sessions of the committee, the internet was referred to briefly and then dismissed. The review is meant to investigate trends in the ‘provision of news’, so why is little mention of online media being made?

The evidence given last week, where ex-Times editor Simon Jenkins described blogs as ‘bar room chats’ despite being a contributing blogger himself to The Huffington Post, was a case in point example of the committee’s grasp of the digital aspect of the newspaper industry. Jenkins’ comments were met with agreeing nods and laughter and a rehashing of ex-editor’s anecdotes was quickly resumed by speaker and panel.

As a current editor, hearing Rebekah Wade’s evidence was more pertinent than reviewing days gone by with previous employees, who can only offer their perspective on a paper or proprietor with whom they no longer have a connection.

In between attacking the Daily Mail’s content and recycling paragraphs from his diary, Alistair Campbell did his best to point this out to the panel. They could ask him his opinions on specific events and people, but they would remain just that – opinions, he admitted, often based on the personal likes or dislikes that are part of everyone’s character.

When the review reaches a conclusion – and there’s still some time to go – the amount of real insights presented, as opposed to historical overview and personal reflection, are likely to be scarce if the committee’s questions and subjects continue looking backwards and not forwards.

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