Hack Attack: WORD Festival Event 12 May 2015

Cover of Hack AttackNick Davies, the author of Hack Attack: How the Truth Caught Up with Rupert Murdoch, was the subject of a Q&A session with Joanna Norris, the editor of The Press, in the chair.

We learned from Joanna Norris’ introduction that George Clooney was making a movie based on the book.

When asked about the difficulty of digging deeply into the phone hacking scandal for several years, Davies answered that he had a very reliable source who had guided him through his investigation for over two years. He said it was clear from the outset how extensive the crimes were, but the difficulty was in proving the truth of the story when up against a powerful corporation headed by a ruthless operator like Rupert Murdoch.

All along through the investigation, paradoxically, the impetus was driven by News Corp. itself because the company’s staff acted stupidly, arrogantly and aggressively. News Corp. kept up relentless attacks on Davies and The Guardian, which spurred Davies and his editor on to follow the story, knowing it must have substance.

Cover of Flat Earth NewsThe ball got rolling when Davies was giving a radio interview about a previous book, Flat Earth News: An Award-Winning Reporter Exposes Falsehood, Distortion and Propaganda in the Global Media. His source was listening to the interview and contacted him about the dodgy dealings that were going on at The Sun and News of the World, both Murdoch tabloid newspapers.

When asked if he thought his book had made any difference to the behaviour of the UK press, Davies answered that, unfortunately, it was business as usual. It remained a “journalist’s fantasy” that writing about a bad thing could make it stop. He gave, as an example, The Sun conducting a campaign to undermine Labour in the most recent UK election as proof Murdoch’s power remained unchanged.

Davies disclosed that he had discovered that UK tabloids were “peculiarly ruthless” and the journalists who staffed them were “almost like a parody of themselves”.

It was Davies’ belief that it was the arrival of Princess Diana that triggered this avalanche of celebrity investigative digging and bred an attitude of journalistic cruelty where “nothing is off limits, nothing is private”. But the tabloid journalists’ hypocrisy was astounding. Andy Coulson and Rebecca Brooks were having an eight-year-long affair while callously exposing the sex lives of public figures.

All through the long investigation by The Guardian into the phone hacking scandal, Davies was pilloried in all the right-wing Murdoch newspapers. He observed that no-one threatened him with physical violence to stop investigating, but the Murdoch empire indulges in what Davies called “reputational violence”, trying to ruin people’s reputations.

Towards the end of the session, in response to questions from the audience, Davies gave the view that the internet had broken the model of newspapers across the world and journalists no longer had the funding nor the resources needed to do their jobs properly.

He thought that the Leveson Enquiry was a powerful one, but Lord Justice Leveson’s report had been deliberately smothered by powerful people in the UK.

The audience got the impression that Nick Davies would go on fighting the good fight, but he was weary and cynical as to the extent he could make a change for a better society.

Read our other blog posts about Hack Attack by Nick Davies.

Very very sleazy tabloid hacks. Hack Attack – Nick Davies at the WORD Christchurch Autumn Season

This is the first booky session I’ve been to with both my Mum and Dad. And a friend. Both had heard about Nick Davies, and didn’t know he was coming to Christchurch for the WORD Christchurch Autumn Season. So we were a keen crew, as were the rest of the crowd. Joanna Norris, editor of The Press, was in the chair – she’s great – en pointe at all times, and with rich journalistic knowledge.

Nick is a Guardian journalist. He investigated the phone hacking that was rife in British newspapers:

The story began in 2007 when the Royal Editor of The News of the World was imprisoned for hacking into voicemail messages of staff at Buckingham Palace.

Nick Davies

He was contacted by a insider who had all the information. Once the stories started coming out it grew massive – 200 people were complicit and  5500 victims affected in phone hacking scandal. It went straight into the world of power, but the difficulty was to prove it. The Guardian posted stories, and may have left it there – but it became locked into the story by the aggressive responses of people like Rebekah Brooks, then CEO of News International:

Our credibility was at stake.

Nick gave us a great insight into the murky world of the tabloid hacks – phone tapping, corruption, prostitutes, cocaine, the lot. The bad guy tabloid hacks are “very very sleazy”. Nothing is off limits.  He sees the hounding of Princess Diana by the newspapers as a turning point.

The wall of deference was broken down & everyone was now fair game … Diana’s life was ransacked for stories.

Tabloid newspapers are “peculiarly ruthless” and riddled with “cruelty and hypocrisy”:

What they do is reputational violence.

This works most effectively against the power elite. The rich and powerful see their fellows brought down by scandal, and don’t want it to happen to them.

Nick had quite a good theory as to why it is that our newspapers are relatively “gentlemanly” as opposed to the UK tabloids. New Zealand ‘s difficult geography and sparse population means that we haven’t developed a national newspaper. Our papers are provincial.  But in the UK, 12 to 15 newspapers were all competing in a rich market.

Discussion moved to the recent UK election and the role of the newspapers.

Since 1979 noone has been elected without Rupert Murdoch’s support.

Some newspapers “pumped the electorate full of misinformation”.  Ed Milliband was portrayed as an “unreliable, untrustworthy nutcase”.  Every party “needed a Murdoch man in their office”. Cameron had Coulson, but Milliband had a Murdoch connection too because:

You have to build a bridge to Rupert.

Nick explored more the parlous state of journalism and public relations:

The PR stuff can go in the bin – we decide what is news. … Honesty is the main thing in journalism.

A great discussion – and the issue is of ongoing interest. Read the book, and follow @bynickdavies and keep up with it all.

Search our catalogue for Nick Davies

Cover of Hack Attack  Cover of Flat Earth news

More from the Nick Davies talk

Read Andrew’s post Hack attack by Nick Davies

WORD Christchurch Autumn Season

Christchurch plays host to the WORD Christchurch Autumn Season. We will be attending sessions, blogging, and tweeting (hashtag #wordchch)

Read our WORD Christchurch blog posts

Nick Davies

Hack attack by Nick Davies

It is nearly time for the WORD Christchurch Autumn season. Come along and hear Nick Davies interviewed by Joanna Norris, editor of The Press and chair of the Media Freedom Committee,  Tuesday 12 May, 8pm at Charles Luney Auditorium, St Margaret’s College. Get your tickets now. He is also appearing at the Auckland Writers Festival.

Nick Davies

Cover of Hack AttackHack attack: How the Truth Caught up With Rupert Murdoch by Nick Davies is a work of investigative journalism at its best. Former News of the World editor Andy Coulson, who had subsequently worked as David Cameron’s head spin doctor, was sentenced in July 2014 to eighteen months in prison for overseeing the phone hacking of celebrities and ordinary folk who were unwittingly caught up in news events.

Nick Davies had said he felt some small sympathy for Coulson, that is until he recalled the chilling lack of compassion shown by Coulson to a plea by David Blunkett, the blind Home Secretary in the then government, to respect his privacy. During his trial, Coulson had shunted home all the blame for hacking Blunkett’s voicemails to his former chief reporter, Neville Thurlbeck, but the court didn’t buy his protestations of innocence.

The temptation of newspaper-selling headlines was much stronger for Coulson than any moral reservations he may have entertained about the damage the story would wreak in the lives of David Blunkett, a senior Labour cabinet minister, and Kimberley Fortier, publisher of the Spectator, a high-profile English magazine.

Davies writes in Hack Attack, his book about the UK phone-hacking scandal

I remember all the others who suffered the same fate, left behind like roadkill as Coulson roared off into his gilded future.

In the headlong rush to fulfil the dictates of the ruthless, Aussie media baron, Rupert Murdoch, Andy Coulson and his boss, Rebekah Brooks, displayed a heartlessness that almost beggared belief.

In their prurient tabloids, the News of the World and the Sun, Brooks, Coulson and the reporters who worked for them hypocritically exposed the affairs of people in the public eye while carrying on in like fashion in their own private lives.

In fact, Hack Attack reveals a degree of amorality and immorality that goes far beyond anything the newspapers’ victims could be accused of. Davies reveals that the senior figures at News of the World like Coulson, news-desk editor, Greg Miskiw, and chief reporter, Neville Thurlbeck, carried on their rampant espionage and dirty dealing unchecked and undiscovered for decades.

Hack Attack is an important book for any readers interested in the landscape of the 21st century global media. Despite the fact that the modern thriller looms large on our bookshelves and television sets; Hack Attack proves yet again that old adage: truth is stranger than fiction. Police corruption and cover-ups, dirty politics, and the relentless global steamroller that rolled over hundreds of lives to satisfy Rupert Murdoch’s ruthless acquisition of power – you wouldn’t read about it. Or would you?

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