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U.K. Paper Under Scrutiny In Phone Hacking Probe


From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Michele Norris.


And I'm Melissa Block.

Police in London say they're opening a new investigation into the activities of journalists at a popular British tabloid newspaper. Reporters at The News of the World are said to have made a habit of listening to the voicemail of members of the royal family, media celebrities and senior politicians.

As NPR's Philip Reeves reports, the case is causing a ripple of alarm in some high places.

PHILIP REEVES: The British don't much like journalists. Sure, millions of them read the tabloid papers, happily gorging themselves on the exploits of cavorting country vicars, coke-sniffing celebrities, and double-dealing politicians.

Yet, they generally see the reporters who hunt down this stuff as muckrakers. So you won't find many Britons shedding a tear today over the latest misfortune to visit their hugely popular Sunday tabloid, The News of the World.

The scandal goes back quite a while, so let's recap. Four years ago, the News of the World's royal correspondent and a private detective were jailed for hacking into voicemail boxes used by aides to the royal family.

The paper's executives insisted these two were the only ones involved in phone-hacking at the paper. A lot of people weren't at all convinced. There was a drip-feed of reports suggesting plenty of others knew about the practice.

The plot's just thickened. The News of the World says it's canned a senior editor after going through his emails. It says it's handed fresh evidence to the police. The cops have responded by promising a new investigation.

People now want to know if the police will confirm what everyone else suspects, that phone-hacking is in fact widespread in Fleet Street, the name still used for the British national press.

The celebrity publicist, Max Clifford, himself a victim of The News of the World phone snoops, says the new police probe could prove very significant.

NORRIS: In layman's terms, basically I suppose it's a volcano, and it's now starting to erupt. And I think the ramifications of what might appear if the police get to the truth will be felt all over Fleet Street.

REEVES: And not just Fleet Street. This case is causing some big headaches elsewhere. The News of the World is part of Rupert Murdoch's media empire. His News International Corporation already owns a big chunk of the British media.

Murdoch's trying to persuade the British authorities to let him have still more, by allowing him complete ownership of the prize satellite TV company, BSkyB. Allegations of skullduggery within his stable aren't helping Murdoch's case.

Spare a thought, too, for the cops over at Scotland Yard. They're feeling the heat, too. London's Metropolitan Police has long had a very cozy relationship with Fleet Street. Many people believe that's why the police haven't properly investigated the phone-hacking scandal after all these years.

John Prescott, Britain's former deputy prime minister, believes he was a victim of phone-hacking. He thinks the cops haven't really been trying.

NORRIS: Now we have evidence the police didn't carry out their proper job. Now we've got Murdoch deciding he wants to clear the ground, so he throws a few of his people to the wolves on evidence that the police already had.

REEVES: This is even a little uncomfortable for Britain's prime minister, David Cameron. Cameron's communications chief, Andy Coulson, suddenly quit his job Friday. Why does that matter? Because Coulson was the editor of The News of the World when the scandal broke. Coulson's always denied knowing anything about any phone hacking on his watch, a position he still maintains.

One group is happy, though. As Britain's aggrieved celebrities and politicians line up to sue for damages, there'll be lawyers rubbing their hands in glee.

Philip Reeves, NPR News, London. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Philip Reeves is an award-winning international correspondent covering South America. Previously, he served as NPR's correspondent covering Pakistan, Afghanistan, and India.