News Of The World

So, is Andy Coulson off the hook?

Just a matter of days ago there seemed to be no way for Andy Coulson, David Cameron’s Director of Communications, to save his job. The growing clamour and drip-feed of testimony to his involvement in the News Of The World phone-hacking scandal was, a very short time ago, threatening to suck the life out of his Downing Street career.

Yet here we are, 21 days after the New York Times re-launched the story, and still Coulson shows no sign of disappearing any time soon.

The story itself is a fairly unpleasant and unsettling one. The essence of it is that, during Coulson’s time at the News Of The World, the paper’s journalists (allegedly) frequently and systematically hacked into the voicemail accounts of a large number of celebrities and public figures in pursuit of a scoop. Many of these figures have launched legal actions against the NOTW and, in some cases, the Metropolitan Police for their apparent lack of concern in informing those whose phones may have been hacked. (Coulson denies any wrongdoing, or indeed knowledge, of any illegal practices which may have taken place during his period as editor, although he did resign in 2007 following the jailing of his Royal Correspondent, Clive Goodman.) It is further alleged that strong links between the NOTW and the Met have led to a less than thorough investigation into these allegations. Much of the background to this story can be found on The Guardian website.

The Guardian does rather seem to be ploughing a lone furrow on this story, although there has been a certain degree of follow-up from The Independent and the broadcast media. Beyond that, there are large chunks of the print media who simply haven’t gone anywhere near this story.

And why would that be, you might ask yourself? Is it because this alleged large-scale criminal activity is a complete non-story? Unlikely, I would suggest. If there was the merest suggestion that the BBC had been up to these tricks the Daily Mail, Daily Telegraph and the entire Murdoch stable would have been all over this story like a rash – and rightly so.

Is it because the right-wing press don’t want to rock the boat for their new friends in Downing Street? Possibly, and Coulson’s personal relationships with individual journalists may well have played some part in the dampening down of the story. But I still believe (perhaps naively) that most journalists know when they have to put personal and professional links aside in pursuit of the truth – unless of course, their very jobs are at stake due to pressure from above.

And this raises the other possibility: if phone-hacking really was rife at the News Of The World, how much of a leap of faith would it be to assume that it is common in other sections of what we used to call Fleet Street? Could certain newspapers simply be following the biblical directive to ‘let he who is without sin cast the first stone’?

Maybe new life will be breathed into this story when the various victims’ legal challenges approach their conclusions. It may even turn out that nothing can be pinned on Coulson from his time at the News Of The World. But this whole episode currently reveals the lack of will for the truth from large sections of the media, and invites one to draw the very worst conclusions about the motives behind this failure.

The nasty odours that continue to rise from the Tory ‘project’

In the midst of all the allegations of bullying emanating from Downing Street at the moment (personally I’d be surprised if any incumbent of Number Ten never lost their cool) there continues to be precious little scrutiny of the Conservatives’ relationship with Andy Coulson, former News Of The World editor and David Cameron’s Communications Director. Of course, no one should be remotely surprised about this given the media’s ongoing failure to ask any searching questions of the Conservatives, despite their continuing position as bookies’ favourites to form the next government.

Nevertheless one might expect a bit more interest from newspapers and broadcasters around the murky recent past of the Tories’ answer to Alastair Campbell. I know that the vast bulk of the print media is in the Tories’ pocket, that the BBC is too scared of an incoming Cameron government to rock the boat, that ITV News are more interested in their continuing evolution into a free-to-air version of the Daily Mail, and that hardly anyone watches Sky News anyway, but aren’t we entitled to expect that front page coverage of real bullying allegations (linked to actual law-breaking) should extend beyond The Guardian?

Coulson’s difficulties (see the Guardian coverage here) don’t represent the only unpleasant odours seeping out of the Cameron Project at the moment. An egregious record on expenses (moats, duck houses and Anthony Steen) sits all too comfortably with Gideon’s social-climbing and squalid grasping on Deripaska’s yacht, not to mention the non-dom status of Zac Goldsmith and the endless unanswered questions about Lord Michael Ashcroft.

Add all of that to their continuing incompetence in the arena of economic policy and the absence of any constructive ideas on crime, unemployment, meaningful political reform, foreign policy and a whole host of other areas and you might be forgiven for thinking that perhaps a little scrutiny wouldn’t go amiss. Don’t hold your breath though – even if you do smell the odd rat.