As the phone hacking scandal blew up in Australia where News Corporation controls 70% of the metropolitan audience in the most concentrated media in the developed world, News Ltd CEO John Hartigan assured the public that nothing so heinous as phone hacking would ever happen in Australia. There was no evidence to doubt his word, but it seemed to me that each media context was different. News corporation is a integrated global company. Some stories got by phone hacking by News International were certainly published here. There were also other questions to which it would be useful for Australia readers to have answers.
From a journalism point of view these questions are pretty straight forward and I was surprised that no one else had asked them. I wondered that the soft approach to CEO John Hartigan was the result of years of News Ltd dominance,
These are the questions I sent to John Hartigan. Instead of answering them he got back with a furious response.
1. I notice that News Ltd papers continued to report stories from News of the World well after phone hacking scandal broke — was this practice discussed by you with editors or other executives in the company? In retrospect, do you have any concerns about this? Why or why not?
2. I note that editors of at least some News Ltd publications including newspapers can give permission for payment for information or articles. Is this a matter that is being included in your editorial audit? Wh[y] or why not? How many occasions has News Ltd paid for information or stories over the last two years? Are there different rules for different publications? if so, what are they?
3. I notice from reports from Australian News Ltd journalists who have spent time working at News of the World (one of them being Rosie Squires) that payment for information and stories was endemic at News of the World. What is your opinion about this? Did you ever raise any concerns about this within wider international circles of News Ltd? Was this discussed at international News Ltd meetings?
4. Are there any circumstances in which you believe it would be acceptable for journalists or papers to hire private inquiry agents to assist with stories — what would these be?
5. Do you consider that bias by newspapers in cities where only one company owns a newspaper could ever be an issue? How do you monitor whether fair means of reporting the news are being applied across the company? What auditing or monitoring mechanisms do you apply? Are there occasions when you do take up matters of bias with editors?
6. Do you think that it would be a good idea if the Australian Press Council became an independent body with funding from both media and other sources including government?
7. Do you think it is appropriate for politicians and media owners or senior executives to meet privately? What would be the purpose of such meetings?
The Sunday Age had asked me to write an opinion piece for today’s paper.
which also appeared in the National Times. You can read it here. It also includes my reasons why I think there should be a media inquiry.