One year and one day after the News of the World published its last-ever issue, two British journalists were arrested on suspicion of alleged payments to public officials.
That is, two more British journalists; the Daily Star Sunday’s Deputy News Editor Tom Savage and the Sunday Mirror’s crime correspondent Justin Penrose brought the total number of journalists Scotland Yard had arrested in connection with phone hacking, computer misuse and corrupt payments to 34, reported the BBC.
Notably, Savage and Penrose were the second and third journalists to be arrested who had not been employed at publications owned by Rupert Murdoch’s News Corporation. A week prior, former Mirror employee Greig Box Turnbull had become the first.
These arrests, which took place on July 11, demonstrated the broadening scope of an investigation that began with the discovery of phone hacking at the News of the World, and has spread over the past year beyond voicemail interception and the Murdoch empire to all manners of misconduct in every corner of the British press and police force.
The two men were among 41 arrested thus far under Scotland Yard’s Operation Elveden inquiry, overseen by the Independent Police Complaints Commission, which looks into allegations of inappropriate payments to police and other public officials. The Elveden inquiry runs alongside Operation Weeting, a probe into mobile phone hacking that has resulted in 26 arrests to date, and Operation Tuleta, which targets computer misuse and has resulted in seven arrests.
For the past eight months, all three police investigations were taking place against the backdrop of Britain’s widely publicised Leveson Inquiry into the culture, practices and ethics of the press, presided over by Lord Justice Leveson, whom Prime Minister David Cameron appointed to chair the inquiry on July 13, of last year.
Hearings opened at the Royal Courts of Justice on November 14, and after 97 days of "sittings" during which 650 witnesses testified and 6,000 pages of evidence were generated, Lord Justice Leveson closed the last scheduled hearing on July 24, with the possibility of holding additional hearings over the coming months if necessary.
Speaking to the courtroom on July 24, Lord Justice Leveson said that most people present could "move on to other productive work" now that the hearings had ended. "For me and the team, however, we have only just started," he continued, according to the BBC. "I will produce a report as soon as I reasonably can. I recognise the urgency of the matter and the need to provide my views for the consideration of the government and all those interested parties speedily so that decisions can be made as to the way forward," he said.
Leveson's report, due in fall, is expected to "be critical of many of those who gave evidence and suggest a new and better way to regulate newspapers," said the BBC.
That Britain's Press Complaints Commission (PCC) had been ill-equipped to act as a satisfactory regulator was a widespread sentiment throughout the inquiry. The PCC “signally failed to deal with the phone hacking scandal,” wrote the Financial Times' Ben Fenton, and News International's barrister Rhodri Davies similarly stated that it had been "unable to act as a satisfactory regulator," and supported the motion put forth by the Press Standards Board of Finance for a revised, self-regulatory system, reported the BBC.
Davies allegedly further claimed that a "culture of clean-up" was underway at News International.
According sources quoted by the New York Times, the scandal has had a "chilling effect" on newsrooms across Britain, "with editors, reporters and their proprietors less eager to trumpet splashy exposes that might involve, or be perceived to involve, less than ethical standards of news gathering." One tabloid journalist who did not wish to be named for fear of losing his job bemoaned the end of an "anything goes" era, in which "don't tell me how you get it, just get it" had been the unwritten rule. “Now things are looked at differently,” he said.
The scandal began in 2007, when the News of the World’s former royal reporter Clive Goodman and private investigator Glenn Mulcaire were sent to jail for illegally accessing celebrities’ mobile voicemail accounts to get scoops.
The public outcry against News International, the publishing subsidiary of News Corporation, began on July 4, 2011, when the Guardian revealed that phone hacking tactics by News International journalists had not been limited to the voicemail accounts of famous people, royal family members and politicians, but had been used on the voice mail box of murdered schoolgirl Milly Dowler.
A boycott of NoW by advertisers sealed its demise; News International announced on July 7 that it would shut down the 168 year-old tabloid after the last edition was printed on Sunday July 10, 2011.
The crumbling of Murdoch’s media fortress did not stop there: in late June, the Australian-born magnate announced that his News Corporation conglomerate would split into two entities, seemingly to shield the still-lucrative entertainment operations, which include the Fox cinema, broadcasting, and news properties, from the beleaguered publishing properties, which include the Wall Street Journal, the Times of London and book publisher HarperCollins.
On July 21, Murdoch stepped down from the boards of News International, Times Newspaper Holdings, News Corp Investments, and resigned his directorship of a number of News Corporation’s US boards, fueling rumours that he is preparing to sell the newspaper group.
Days later, British prosecutors laid criminal charges against eight high profile figures from the scandal, including Rebekah Brooks, a Murdoch protégé and confidante of Cameron’s who took over the reigns at NoW in 2000, at the Sun in 2003, and at News International in 2009; Andy Coulson, Cameron’s former director of communications, who served as Brooks’ deputy at NoW and succeeded her as editor in chief in 2003; and Neville Thurlback, the tabloid’s former chief reporter. If convicted, they could spend up to two years in prison.
Thurlbeck, who was arrested on March 14 on suspicion of intimidating a witness and on April 5, 2011 on suspicion of conspiring to intercept communication, has become a “blogger extraordinaire,” according to the Guardian’s media commentator Roy Greenslade.
In commemoration of NoW’s closure, blogged one year after the fact about the changes that have taken place in Britain:
"Rupert Murdoch did much to improve the moral well being of the nation when he closed down the News of the World. Since then, we live in a much less polluted society and our collective soul has been cleansed by the eradication of the evil staff (me) and wicked readers (yes you!). In the 12 months since the paper closed...No peer of the realm has committed perjury, no “happily married” MPs have been taking secret mistresses and all celebrities have chucked their class A drugs into the Thames. I am immensely reassured by the fact that, search as they may, not one newspaper has been able to locate a single paedophile ring to bust."
His ironic point? Britain’s news agenda has grown thinner since the tabloid’s death, but the consistency of the nation’s moral fibre is unchanged.
Whether or not he is right, one thing has certainly grown in thickness since the demise of NoW: the lens of the magnifying glass that Britain uses to scrutinize the behaviour of its press and police.
Image is a still from Al Jazeera’s video on the closing of News of the World:
This article was originally published on July 12, and updated on July 26.