Letter from Edinburgh

The News of the World sells an enormous number of copies on an average Sunday.

Its Scottish edition features a perceptive political comment piece by Euan McColm among the more stable fare of a red top tabloid. This political assessment is required reading for most politicians as it breaks down complex, detailed political stories into language that people understand, which is a true gift of an intelligent journalist. But the paper is now in real difficulties. Every day another phone tapping incident emerges and most days the papers bosses say they knew nothing.

The parents of murdered schoolgirl Milly Dowler are understandably appalled that a private investigator on the News of the World payroll was accessing text messages on her mobile phone. This week it is reported that the paper may have hacked into the mobile phones of the 7th July London bombing victims.

It’s hard not to believe that this behaviour, this invasion of privacy, had become accepted practice. To heck with ethics or any semblance of what might be considered acceptable pursuit of a story by investigative means.

Now we also hear that certain elements of the police were providing information to journalists and receiving money in return. If that’s true, and is found as such there will be a public outcry and some very senior police officers will be getting their P45s.

Government ministers now say the justice system must take its course. A full criminal investigation is under way. But the clamour for a public inquiry grows, led by people such as former deputy prime minister John Prescott who is 100 per cent sure his phone was tapped by the News of the World.

While all this was going on the UK government approved Rupert Murdoch’s takeover of satellite broadcasting companies despite the concentration of media power he has in owning The Times – that’s the London version – the Sun and the News of the World.

Power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely … or words to that effect. It cannot be right to have media power concentrated in one person’s hand. And I’m not just saying that because all the Murdoch media including the News of the World backed the SNP in the recent election. This is rather more serious than political endorsements.

Tommy Sheridan is in jail. The state spent £2 million investigating his alleged perjury in the original defamation trial against the News of the World. He was ultimately convicted of lying.

But during his trial Mr Sheridan called Andy Coulson to give evidence. He was a former editor of the paper and was then the chief spin doctor for David Cameron. He subsequently left that job. Tommy said his phone was tapped. It was denied. But why would anyone believe that now?

Tavish Scott MSP


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