Tom Leatherbarrow, Head of B2B at Willoughby PR, blogs on #horsegate and how social media is the new front line in the phone hacking scandal.
Amid the hilarity contained in the news that the Metropolitan Police had lent Rebekah Brooks a horse, which led to the term #horsegate trending on Twitter, is a more serious point.
Well, actually there are multiple serious points, not least why the Metropolitan Police was lending livestock to the Chief Executive of a company it was supposed to be investigating? However, I intend, for the purpose of this blog, to concentrate on the media aspects.
There has been an orchestrated counter-attack over the last 10 days by the media establishment in the form of Michael Gove, current Education Secretary and former Times columnist; Trevor Kavanagh, former political editor of The Sun and Lord Hunt of the Press Complaints Commission. All have waded into the phone hacking debate and on-going Leveson Inquiry to criticise the Met’ for heavy handedness; accuse politicians of wanting a compliant media and Gove, in particular, accusing Leveson of creating a “chilling atmosphere” for the media to operate in.
I was privileged to be able to listen to Tom Watson MP at the Botanical Gardens in Birmingham last week and, in the course of a fascinating evening, he gave some insight into what is going on at the moment. “The danger, “ he said “is not that the public will get bored of phone hacking, but that the media will.”
In other words, there is nothing News International and others in the national media would like more than for phone hacking to go away and leave the status quo, including a rebadged but still compliant Press Complaints Commission, intact. Hence the articles talking about ‘over-reaction’ and the potential ‘threat’ to a free press.
The national media though has form in this area. When the Guardian was the only newspaper running with phone hacking stories prior to the Milly Dowler furore, Alan Rusbridger, editor of the Guardian, was forced, according to Watson, to call in a favour from the editor of the New York Times to get the paper to investigate phone hacking in the UK. The result was the mammoth investigative reporting piece that ran in the ‘Paper of Record’ in 2010.
Is the same happening again? I believe the public remains interested in this story, aghast at the journalistic tactics used by News International and deeply worried about its relationship with the Met. Don’t believe me? Why else would #horsegate start trending?
If the nationals try to sit on this story again however, Watson plans a different tactic. In his own words, “we’ll use social media to get the story out to the wider public.” In the modern media age the national press is no longer the only source of supply.
PS: Watson remains convinced that “there is a lot more to come” in relation to phone hacking, payment of public officials and computer hacking, as events this week at Leveson have demonstrated. The one to watch though is the Tommy Sheridan perjury conviction appeal. I won’t go into the details here, but Watson is convinced that Sheridan will win his appeal which has potentially serious implications for a certain former News of the World editor who subsequently went on to work as Head of Communications for the current Prime Minister!