Nick Davies – Hack Attack

Today’s episode ranks as one of the most controversial we have done here at London Real.

Nick Davies is the man responsible for brokering the deal between the Guardian and WikiLeaks that exposed the phone hacking scandal in the UK.

As well leading to the closure of a national newspaper, a judicial investigation into press practices and the resignation and arrest of a former press adviser to the Prime Minister, the story also exposed the power and influence of newspaper baron Rupert Murdoch.

As Nick says, the story was not about phone hacking. It was about power.

This episode is really an insight into how the great and the powerful work in western countries, and how secrecy and fear have replaced what we used to call democracy.

Nick Davies spent the best part of a decade investigating and writing about the phone hacking practices of Rupert Murdoch’s paper.

In the beginning, it was a sordid story about how private investigators were being employed to hack the voicemails of the Royal Family.

At that point, the police drew a line under the story and it looked like the scandal would disappear.

In the summer of 2011, however, Nick Davies wrote a story that claimed the scandal went deep into the corridors of power, and thousands of people were having their privacy invaded at the expense of a good story.

In short, the law was being broken on an institutional scale.

It wasn’t until it was exposed that the voicemails of a murdered teenager Milly Dowler had been hacked that public opinion demanded a reaction from the government and the establishment.

Up until this point, Nick Davies had been fighting his way through the story, his paper had been ridiculed and his reputation was being attacked.

He tells me, however, that in July 2011 that all changed and he was at the centre of the biggest scandal of his generation.

The narrative is the stuff of Hollywood. Just as the story was breaking, Rupert Murdoch and his son James were trying to finalise a takeover deal that would allow them full control of BSkyB.

This was the biggest deal of Murdoch’s career, and would place him firmly at the top of the world’s media power hierarchy.

By that time, however, the truth was out and the Murdoch deal fell through.

But had anything really changed?

Nick tells me how the third act reminds him just how difficult it is to really impact the structures of power.

The Murdoch empire still reigns supreme, and Nick believes Prime Minister David Cameron is already cozying up to the media mogul once again.

Nick is not cynical. He believes most journalists care about the truth.

The job of a news reporter is to use their skills and resources to sort truth from falsehood.

He believes that we rely on this service more than ever, in an age where corporations have unprecedented power, and the threats to global security grow by the year.

It was fascinating to pick the brain of a man who has been at the centre of British journalism most of his life, and who understand the UK’s press culture better than anyone.

He risked his career to expose the underbelly of a corrupt and ruthless tabloid press, and he did it because he believes in the values of a healthy press.

Nick has written a book on the depressing state of the modern media, and what he calls “churnalism” – where lack of resources and the pressure of the internet have caused newsrooms to be nothing more than extension sof PR firms.

He also has some amusing and incisive things to say about what makes the UK press culture so unruly, gossip driven and obsessed with sex.

I didn’t take it personally when Nick told he is not optimistic about new media’s ability to replace the age-old institutions of the press.

For Nick, established newspapers provide the public with skills, resources and accountability in a way that bloggers and independent writers cannot.

The internet is awash with citizen journalism, but quite honestly, how much of it is credible and reliable?

Most blogs end up descending into opinion to fill in the gaps, and many writers don’t have the skills or training to know how to source information and check facts.

Also, make sure you look out for Nick’s take on Julian Assange, who is back on the front pages after the UN branded his arrest arbitrary.

Nick is pretty objective about Assange, and says he admires him, but feels he let his ego get in the way of good judgement both personally and professionally.

In this episode you really get a sense of the responsibility of the press. Though you could be forgiven for being cynical about the future of media, Nick Davies is proof that the old-school commitment to truth and public debate still exists in a media culture swamped in gossip, celebrity and political divisions.

[9:15] Introduction

[10:20] Is there anything that is different looking at it now?

[11:00] Phone hacking is about power.

[16:30] Don’t call the Queen as a witness.

[17:30] Selling tips to police was illegal.

[18:30] How the Metropolitan Police has not really changed much.

[19:53] Cynical approach of Police clamping down the link between junior officers and the journalists.

[24:00] Gordon Brown removing Horse Race Levy to please Rebekah Brooks

[25:00] Timeline of the scandal

[26:40] Murdoch’s people in the UK have just payed out more than £1m to block the scale of the phone hacking scandal.

[27:00] Milly Dowler’s murder and families of victims of July 7th 2005 London terrorist attack being hacked.

[30:00] Rupert Murdoch bullying the government.

[34:00] Being a spectator of my own story.

[35:00] The Leveson Inquiry.

[37:00] The back channel of a Quasi Judicial role with the Rupert Murdoch people.

[38:00] Closure of News Of The World.

[39:45] Sacrifice the paper and we can have a cleaner hands for the BSkyB buyout.

[40:10] Were you a hated men?

[41:25] Most journalist are decent honest people. There’s a small minority of bad guys who got themselves into positions of power.

[44:00] Ropert Murdoch blows it.

[46:00] Rupert Murdoch being attacked by a plate of shaving foam.

[47:30] George Clooney will be directing a film about this.

[50:00] David Cameron and John Whittingdale.

[52:30] No politician has been elected in the UK without Rupert Murdoch’s support since 1979.

[53:30] Almost interviewing Rupert Murdoch. What questions were you going to ask?

[57:00] British press is much more ruthless.

[59:00] How would this story end?

[1:00:50] Revival of News Corp in the UK.

[1:02:00] Flat Earth News

[1:05:00] Public debate in dealing with global issues like climate change, inequality and terrorists.

[1:07:00] Online newspapers

[1:11:00] Rupert Murdoch is not a clever businessmen, he’s a ruthless businessmen.

[1:14:00] It doesn’t matter if mainstream news collapse because citizen journalism will take over.

[1:15:20] Skills and resource to get news.

[1:16:20] Saving the profession that helps distinguish truth and falsehood.

[1:16:40] How do you keep interested as a journalist who’s done a big story.

[1:18:00] Research and travelling to Vietnam

[1:19:20] What was your relationship with Wikileaks

[1:20:15] Recycling unchecked second hand material

[1:20:30] There is a truck load of secret out there with this guy called Julian Assange.

[1:22:00] Media law in London is very restrictive.

[1:26:00] Working in great secrecy.

[1:33:52] Julian Assange is being attacked by the Swedish police.

[1:36:00] Julian supporters putting out false information.

[1:37:00] Wikileaks

[1:38:00] Ed Snowden

[1:40:00] Giving credit to Wikileaks

[1:41:00] Brilliant structure to reveal secrets

[1:42:00] Trolling and the Swedish women

[1:43:00] Being really passionate about the truth

[1:44:10] Journalism still continues to attract bright clever journalist.

[1:45:00] Emotional drive of doing journalism

[1:50:00] Who comes to mind when thinking about successful people.

[1:53:55] Matching personality with work

[1:55:00] What keep you awake at night?

[1:57:00] Advice to the 20 year old Nick Davies

[1:58:00] George Clooney’s movie

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Brian RoseDominic JonesMargot DonkerslootThiago JotaJohn Robinson Recent comment authors
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Dominic Jones

Thank you for this interesting interview 🙂

Margot Donkersloot
Margot Donkersloot

Great interview – best ever.

Thiago Jota

This was good. Any chance of an interview with Assange (via Skype), Alex Jones (infowars), David Icke (on book tour), Graham Hancock (on book tour), or Annie Jacobsen (on book tour)? I’ve never seen, by the way, a guest doing a Skype interview with London Real and that may be the key to get time in their busy schedule and an opportunity for the show to grow more. May not be as nice visually and not the same thing as in person, but it’s the conversation that matters, right?

John Robinson

Yeah, that was very, very very good. Its a shame that people dont read like Nick suggested (time split with the job, “new media” and traditional i suppose) – again, i’d suggest that “Flat Earth News” is required reading these days. Just look at youtube and the “reaction” video phenomenon – ‘news from nowhere’ and how it generates huge incomes, spreading ignorance and perpetuated by copyright theft. Meanwhile, YT picks up 45% or whatever.. [other online “newspapers” have a similar model] I really enjoyed this one Brian. I’ve been watching out for it since the other side of Christmas. Fantastic… Read more »

Aude Debenest
Aude Debenest

Great insight into the strategy of news corporations and on what it’s like to work with Julian Assange. I also wanted to say fantastic intro, very thrilling montage, musics and extracts at the beginning, gripping!

Skhumbuzo Sithole

I enjoyed this interview with Nick. I like the insights he gives on the working of the media. Quite frankly, I think the media architecture is similar in many countries, including mine (South Africa). His reason for being a journalist made me think why I do what I do. I thought it was fascinating.


News organizations are so similar around the world. In Canada we also had similar newspaper scandals. Transparency never really existed and journalism ethics are very rare. As long as people are in charge, greed sex and power seeking will creep up. Whatever sells!. The internet now provides access to everything and anything and it’s up to people to take it or leave it. I like Nick’s story about his visit to Vietnam. I just came back from that country and it was indeed interesting and disturbing to me to witness the aftermath of the war on the country’s economy and… Read more »

Mikael Henriksson

Great Interview! Nick is of a rare breed. How hard was this interview? I get nervous just thinking about interviewing this guy.