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Rebekah Brooks, former chief of News Corp.’s British operations, goes on trial, facing charges of phone hacking and obstructing justice.

Lefteris Pitarakis • Associated Press,

British journalism goes on trial Monday in hacking scandal

  • Article by: STEVEN ERLANGER and STEPHEN CASTLE
  • New York Times
  • October 27, 2013 - 8:06 PM

 

The ethics of the once mighty and still powerful British newspaper industry go on trial here Monday, with two former top editors from Rupert Murdoch’s media empire facing criminal accusations involving phone hacking and obstructing justice.

The case features one of Murdoch’s favorites, Rebekah Brooks, and another ­editor who became a top aide to Prime Minister David ­Cameron, Andy Coulson. The trial is expected to be aggressive and detailed, with the potential for yet more revelations about the inner workings of the ­competitive world of British tabloid journalism and its tangled relationships with the political elite and law ­enforcement officials.

The trial, in which all the defendants deny guilt, may also add momentum to efforts to regulate Britain’s obstreperous press. That effort hit a stalemate after a lengthy revelatory inquiry, led by Lord Justice Sir Brian Leveson, ended last year after exposing a toxic web of criminal practices by the news media, including computer hacking and bribery of police.

“The ethics of the whole of the British press are again in the spotlight” with this trial, said Brian Cathcart, a former newspaper deputy editor and director of Hacked Off, an organization campaigning for media reform and tighter regulation. Britain has had years of media “intrusion into peoples’ lives without a public interest — of distortion, of bullying, even blackmailing,” he said.

To regulate or not to regulate

Leveson proposed regulations underwritten by law, a plan that was soon watered down. But the question of regulation quickly brings concern that Britain’s press freedoms, a tradition of three centuries, could be at risk. So far, politicians have been arguing with newspaper groups in a fiery debate with no clear ­resolution.

Tim Luckhurst, a former newspaper editor and ­professor of journalism at the University of Kent, said, “What the trial will do is to refocus public attention on the fact that the new system of regulation has been recommended and we don’t have it.”

Both Brooks and Coulson were powerful journalists whose influence extended deep into the political world. After editing the News of the World tabloid — which Murdoch eventually closed in an effort to stem the scandal over accessing cellphone messages of reporting targets — Coulson became Cameron’s communications director. Brooks, a former editor and top Murdoch executive, was on friendly terms with Cameron — a school chum of her husband.

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