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Monday, August 31, 2009 

Steve Whittamore's database exposed and Murdoch's victory.

Finally then, we learn some of the identities of those who were targeted by various national newspapers and magazines via Steve Whittamore, the details of which have previously been kept back by the Information Commissioner's office.

And what an obvious collection of searches in the wider public interest they are. Whether blagging their way into BT's databases to get home addresses and ex-directory numbers, the social security system, the DVLA or the police national computer, these are names to conjure with: the former director general of the National Trust, the Southampton football manager, the father of a Big Brother contestant, the former head of Ofsted, Chris Woodhead, MP Clive Betts, Wayne Rooney's mother, Carol Vorderman's brother, Andrew Motion's ex-wife.

To lay off the sarcasm for a moment, some of these uses of a private detective to obtain information could have been in the public interest: politicians from all the main parties are also represented, among them Peter Mandelson, Peter Hain, Chris Patten, Peter Kilfoyle, a couple of then union leaders. Most though are just scurrilous attempts to back up gossip: Joanna Lumley, sainted by the newspapers this year for her role in the campaign to allow Gurkhas to move here, was targeted repeatedly in attempts to find out who the father of her child was. Ian Hislop seems to have been had his details accessed mainly because of a vendetta against him by the paparazzo Jason Fraser, while Frances Lawrence, wife of the murdered headmaster Philip was also attempted to be tracked down, and so the list goes on.

Some of the requests, as Nick Davies notes, appear to be down to either sheer laziness or the need to meet deadlines: some of the information sought is almost certainly freely available on the electoral register. Most though just seem to be fishing expeditions, trying to find what information they can get on someone, possibly to back up a story, possibly just in case they ever need it. The other thing that Guardian's obtaining of the information signifies is that it also knows exactly which journalists or even editors were themselves requesting information, as Whittamore also kept their details, maybe in case he was caught and so he could attempt to bring them down with him. Private Eye has already revealed that Rebekah Wade herself made a personal request to Whittamore for information while she was editor of the News of the World; doubtless there are other "big" names in here that would cause a major stir were they to be released.

It also brings into sharp relief James Murdoch's rant at the weekend:

Above all we must have genuine independence in news media. …independence is characterised by the absence of the apparatus of supervision and dependency. Independence of faction, industrial or political. Independence of subsidy, gift and patronage.

It doesn't of course matter that Murdoch himself is the purest example of patronage in a supposedly free and independent market, but put that to one side. The "independence" and lack of any supervision which he craves leads directly to the abuses detailed above. It leads not to the public service journalism which the BBC provides, but to the trash which fills the Sun and News of the World, which in turn subsidise his "serious" newspapers. His market fundamentalism is just as bad as the BBC would be if it was his caricature of it. Little wonder that News International's reaction to the Guardian's revelations of widespread phone hacking were so ferocious: they'd been caught when they need to be seen, in Tony Blair's parlance, as purer than pure. The sad thing is that with an incoming Conservative government, desperate to buy off the Murdoch press, we might well see Young Murdoch's dreams become something close to reality.

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Glad you spotted the Murdoch vomit, how he had the cheek to even utter those words with no sense of irony is beyond me.

"doubtless there are other "big" names in here that would cause a major stir were they to be released"

Please let it be Richard Littlejohn,

Please let it be Richard Littlejohn,

Please let it be Richard Littlejohn!

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