Double Standards on Phone Hacking

A few quick comments on the unfolding phone hacking scandal, and what it says about the double-standards of our society and politics.
First, let us note that the images featured on the front pages of many newspapers yesterday were those of the most iconic cases of recent years. Sarah Payne, hollyandjessica, Millie Dowler, Madeline McCann: the news-stands appeared to be some macabre Abduction Hall of Fame. This is actually a dream come true for rivals of News of the World. It is the invasion of privacy of these families that the rival newspapers are keen to report, because they too know that it is images of these children that sell. And by pasting the famous images onto Page 1, I would say that they too are stepping, once more, into the grief of these families.
Meanwhile, black men and boys (the victims of inner-city stabbings that are far more common than the abduction of white school-girls) don’t seem to be mentioned in the reports. Is this because Glen Mulcaire and his News of the World handlers did not think the stories were sufficiently interesting? Or that today’s politicians and editors judge that an invasion of the privacy of (say) Damilola Taylor’s family would not sufficiently motivate the public, in a way that the Soham murders apparently do? Whichever explanation is closer to the truth, it says something unpleasant about our society and our media. It is ironic that, in expressing outrage at the practices of the tabloids, we fall back on the precisely those assumptions and values that we otherwise claim to despise.
A final note, also related to public opinion. In the chamber of the House of Commons yesterday, the Prime Minister made some throwaway comment about how the phone-hacking scandal was no longer “just about celebrities and politicians”. It is sometimes difficult to remember that both those groups are humans beings too! They deserve precisely the same protection from the law as the families of murdered schoolgirls. The Rule of Law is the Rule of Law. When it is broken, the Prime Minister’s outrage should not be contingent on who the victim is.


They’re discussing similar issues in the USA too.

Update II

Now cross-posted with comments at

7 Replies to “Double Standards on Phone Hacking”

  1. Well, Madeleine McCann was not a schoolgirl, was she? And most of the servicemen who died in the last several years (the hacking of whom raised the outrage level to fever-pitch) were neither female nor children. It’s a cheap shot, but I wonder whether this selective angle you have chosen isn’t guilty of the very thing it purports to object to? Yes, it certainly is ironic.

    1. Yes, now they are. But the soldiers and 7/7 families are mentioned in a generic way, not by name like Milly.
      And part of my point was about imagery, whcih continues to focus on the girls.

  2. With Rupert Murdoch back in London, and comments that ‘up to five more arrests can be expected’, could we yet see a geriatric defence of (possibly) his ‘fifth daughter’, or even James? We live in hope…..
    Thank you for your concise reportage. You say that you are NOT Rob Sharp of the Independent? Sadly, neither am I…..
    Ross Sharp

  3. “the victims of inner-city stabbings that are far more common than the abduction of white school-girls don’t seem to be mentioned in the reports
    Be fair. More common things are always less reported. Man bites dog is a story, dog bites man isn’t. People are more interested in unusual things than usual ones.

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