STRAIGHT TALK: Custard pie already there on Murdoch

ANYONE Googling ‘Murdoch’ yesterday would find ‘Murdoch custard pie’ coming straight in as entry number three.

But the metaphorical custard pie was already all over his face even before the News International chief sat down to explain himself before the House of Commons Culture, Media and Sport Select Committee.

Jonathan May-Bowles’ plate of shaving foam was strictly unnecessary.

Murdoch described it as the most humble day of his life.

Revelation after sordid revelation had shown a string of alleged illegal and corrupt practices with phone hackings of the rich and famous and payments to the police by News International staff.

Few people stirred about hackings of phones owned by royalty, celebrities and politicians.

But why shouldn’t they enjoy the right to a private life? Yes, of course they live in the public eye but that doesn’t mean News International – or anyone else – has carte blanche to raid their intimate details by whatever illegal means they deem necessary.

The tipping point came, however, when it was revealed phone hackings involved murder victim Millie Dowler, the families of murdered schoolgirls Holly Wells and Jessica Chapman, the families of the 2005 London bombings and the families of 9/11 victims.

News International’s links with the London Metropolitan Police has seen the Met Commissioner Sir Paul Stephenson resign, quickly followed by assistant commissioner John Yates.

As a journalist, the only crumb of comfort is that the Murdoch empire’s wrongdoings are being exposed by journalists.

The grand obsession that the ‘red tops’ have with celebrity has all but obscured serious, crusading journalism.

The key figure who inspired me to become a journalist was the all-time best editor of The Sunday Times, Harold Evans.

One Evans campaign focused on the plight of Britain’s thalidomide children who had never been given compensation for horrific birth defects such as withered limbs.

Evans, later knighted, took on the drug companies responsible for manufacturing thalidomide – and pursued them through the English courts before emerging victorious from the European Court of Human Rights.

As a result, victims’ families won compensation and the Government was forced to change the law inhibiting the reporting of civil cases.

There were many other influential campaigns and Evans’ stature at the time was such that he was the ‘gold standard’ by which other journalists measured themselves.

Murdoch acquired Times Newspapers in 1981 and Evans was appointed editor of The Times. But Evans stayed for just a year, leaving over ‘policy differences’ relating to editorial independence.

It’s a great personal sadness to me that we lost Evans, the right man in the right place at the right time, and gave bigger and bigger shares of Britain’s media to Murdoch.

Evans pursued genuine wrongdoers – righting wrongs – while News International committed any wrong it could think of in pursuit of a so-called good news story.