18th October 2012
By Alexandre Leclercq

Secret Payoff and Hidden Messages Reignite UK Press Controversy

Surian Soosay - News International's Rebekah Brooks Under Fire (CC BY 2.0)

Aidan White

The report from Lord Justice Leveson on his forensic examination of press ethics in the British national newspaper industry is not due for some weeks, but controversy rages on, particularly around the former News International chief executive, Rebekah Brooks.

Brooks resigned at the height of the phone-hacking scandal in July 2011 which led to the closure of the News of the World. She has since been arrested and faces prosecution with others for conspiring to cover up the scandal. She denies the charges.

However, many people in the industry have been shocked by reports  that she may have received a severance package of around £7,000,000 in a secret payoff.

The revelation may infuriate many of the journalists who lost their jobs when the paper was closed, but it also raises questions over the lack of transparency in the way the company works, and particularly in its treatment of senior executives.

Severance arrangements are personal and privacy is sometimes appropriate but given the intense public interest in the activities of management at News International, secrecy over the payment to Brookes is difficult to justify.

However, the company’s generosity will surprise few people. After all, Brooks became a close friend of Rupert Murdoch as she made her stellar rise from a secretary at the News of the World in 1989, to become editor of the paper and then later to take charge at the Sun.

Her other great friendship – with Britain’s Prime Minister David Cameron – has also been making headlines. Cameron came under fire  in parliament this week when it was revealed he had kept secret from the Leveson inquiry a number of private emails he exchanged with Brooks.

The Prime Minister refused to explain to parliament why he had not disclosed details of these messages or even publicly reveal their existence. He says he held them back from the inquiry after taking legal advice that they were not relevant.

The personal contact between Cameron and Brooks has already been closely scrutinised by Lord Leveson and the secret emails may not contain much new material, but the row highlights again the problem of too-cosy relations between political power and journalism. It underscores the case for more openness inside media about their dealings with political leaders.

Photo Credit: Surian Soosay – News International’s Rebekah Brooks Under Fire (CC BY 2.0)