/ 9 November 2009

UK watchdog clears Murdoch paper over hacking claim

The body which oversees the British press has dismissed allegations that journalists at one of media mogul Rupert Murdoch’s newspapers regularly hacked into the phones of public figures to secure sensational stories.

The Press Complaints Commission (PCC) said on Monday it had not found any proof to support a story by the Guardian newspaper in July this year which said the practice to secure sensational stories was widespread at the News of the World tabloid.

In response, the Guardian described the PCC’s report as complacent, saying the organisation did not have the ”ability, the budget or the procedures to conduct its own investigations”.

The report by the Guardian newspaper dominated the headlines for days in Britain and reignited the debate on media ethics and the tactics used to land scoops on celebrities, sports stars and politicians.

Murdoch’s tabloid, part of his newspaper arm in Britain, had admitted to one already well-known case of phone hacking, but denied that the problem had been widespread.

In that one case, the News of the World‘s royal reporter Clive Goodman was jailed for phone hacking, and the Guardian story prompted the PCC to look into whether it had been misled over the scale of the problem in its original inquiry.

The independent body also looked into whether phone hacking had continued since their original report.

”The PCC received information from a number of sources,” it said. ”It found no evidence that it was materially misled by the News of the World, and no evidence that phone message hacking is ongoing.

”The Guardian‘s sources suggesting a greater culture of intrusion at the News of the World were anonymous and could not be tested.

”Indeed, having reviewed the matter, the commission could not help but conclude that the Guardian‘s stories did not quite live up to the dramatic billing they were initially given,” the report said.

The Guardian had reported that the News of the World had paid a large sum of money to Gordon Taylor, the head of the Professional Footballers Association, to settle a hacking claim and reported that others had also been targeted.

But while the PCC said the claim about Taylor was ”significant”, it said it had not found any evidence that the phone hacking was ongoing. — Reuters