Not all publicity is good publicity…

This month has again seen more allegations of phone hacking by the News of the World (NoW) dominating the headlines. The story first came to light back in the 2005 court case that saw Clive Goodman and Glenn Mulcaire jailed for hacking into the phones of royal aides. In July 2009 the Guardian reported that up to 3000 phones of celebrities and politicians had been hacked by the NoW and the company made several compensation payouts. Despite the fact that hacking is illegal, there have been claims that the phones of murder victims, relatives of killed soldiers and families of the London 7/7 bombings have all been targets of the paper.

Advertisers were the first to act, publically withdrawing their business from the paper, and it was announced on 7 July 2011 that the 168-year-old tabloid would print its last edition. Andy Coulson and Rebecca Brookes have been arrested over the affair, and met police commissioner Sir Paul Stephenson quit. David Cameron called for an inquiry after the police investigation: “It is absolutely disgusting, what has taken place, and I think everyone in this country will be revolted by what they have heard and what they have seen on their television screens”.

The media and social network coverage as one of their own ships sunk has been phenomenal, and journalists scrambled to report the ongoing story as it broke. Tweeters and Facebookers alike all gave their opinion with several groups calling for resignation of then editor Rebecca Brooks. There’s been rumours that the Sun will simply take over the NoW’s Sunday slot, and that the apparent grand gesture of disbanding the paper was just a gimmicky PR stunt by Rupert Murdoch in a last ditch attempt to save face.

The other tabloids have been quick to jump on the grave of NoW, creating television adverts encouraging the public to buy an honest Sunday paper and even billing themselves as “the Sunday paper you can trust”. However, empathy is being used as a PR tool on both sides.

Prior to the hearings at the House of Commons Brookes and Murdoch are rumoured to have consulted with body language experts. Critics watched the pair like hawks for any subconscious messages or slip ups. The media training largely seems to have paid off, although the protestor’s cream pie attack also helped create sympathy for the older Murdoch. Public relations professor Trevor Morris commented “The three key messages were: we’re very sorry; we’re doing something about it; and it’s not really our fault. If it had been me advising Murdoch, I’d have got them to focus on saying they took their eye off the ball. A little more humility wouldn’t have gone amiss.”.

The hearing ended up being more like a well rehearsed play. Murdoch’s side seemed to have successfully scripted his lines using a double attack of PR training and legal advice.  However, even after using all the help he could get and employing the oratory winning power of three technique (, Murdoch’s publicity team are going to have their work cut out. Rival journalists writing about other corrupt journalists know all the tricks and certainly won’t be pulling any punches. It would take a pretty big miracle to get Murdoch’s reputation out of this one unscathed.

Written by Admin– – July 2011

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