Phone hacking, tapping voicemail without permission, is illegal in the UK. But in the first decade of this century, there was widespread abuse by the tabloid media, including fraudulently obtaining private information such as telephone bills or medical records, known as “blagging”.
The royals were a prime target, and in 2006-7, the royal editor of The News of the World, Clive Goodman, and private investigator, Glenn Mulcaire, were convicted of intercepting a royal aide’s voice mail.
Prof. Timothy Luckhurst, head of South College School at the University of Durham and founding head of the center for journalism at the University of Kent, said a notable shift in the media came after the shocking revelation that The News of the World, Rupert Murdoch’s newspaper, had hacked the phone of missing child, Milly Dowler, who later found dead.
The case sparked an investigation by the presiding judge, Brian Leveson, and in 2011 resulted in the closing of the case by the News Corporation. 168 year old newspaper.
“Leveson’s investigation involved very intense scrutiny and deep criticism of elements of the popular press in England, and it led to recommendations which, if accepted, would lead to the first ever state involvement in UK press regulation. England since the abolition of press licenses in the 17th century,” said Professor Luckhurst.
British policy makers have long grappled with how to curb tabloid excesses.
But the idea that Parliament would rule the people whose job it is to hold MPs to account proved to be a threat big enough to act as a form of restraint on journalists. The idea of regulation was ultimately rejected amid fears about trampling on press freedom, says Professor Luckhurst, “but the press understood, at the time, that self-regulation had to provide substantial improvements in behavior if it was to survive.”