Watch > Episode > Nick Davies - Hack Attack

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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.

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