How the Harper government will spin the Murdoch scandal
The U.K. hacking scandal is feeding a controversial and self-serving political agenda.
It almost never happens that there is no other side to a story. But there really isn't another side when it comes to revelations about the News of the World and other media properties owned by Rupert Murdoch hacking into the personal phones and computers of people in the public eye and bribing police officers for sordid scoops.
That said, the only thing that's just slightly less deplorable than the conduct of Mr. Murdoch's chief news executives is the sanctimonious pileup caused by their misdeeds. It has become obligatory for media types as well as politicians to not only revile the immorality of the whole nasty business, but to be seen to revile it — as loudly and as often as possible.
The whole mess may have taken a sizeable bite out of the public value of News Corp. stock, but it's also created a bull market for hypocrisy.
Politicians who once sucked-up to the Murdoch empire hoping for favourable coverage are the most shrill, followed closely by those who were victims of the New Corp.'s right-wing bias and are now eager to get a little easy payback.
It's well-documented that securities regulators love a chance to show they actually have some clout, so you can pretty much set your watch for some clatter from the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission about the enforcement of U.S anti-bribing laws, which apply to any U.S.-listed corporation that does something nefarious offshore.
Then there are all the other media outlets, racing to distance themselves from such tactics and to ensure anyone and everyone that they'd never stoop to such scandalous behaviour.
Even the Bancroft family — which sold the Wall Street Journal to Mr. Murdoch for a whopping premium in 2007 — are now braying about how they'd never have done such a thing if they'd known he was such a bounder. Really? The 67 per cent premium to market price for their shares would never have swayed them? Odd, given that the first hacking scandal was revealed about six months before that deal was done.
And let's not even discuss the fact that a voracious public appetite for dirty secrets and their exposure is what made Mr. Murdoch and his newspapers rich in the first place.
In Canada, the media frenzy over this story may recede over the summer, but will likely resurface with a vengeance in Ottawa in the fall because it has deep roots in the Conservative political agenda. Along with the recent hack attacks on the Government of Canada, hacking into Google accounts and energy industry computers, and the class action suit against Sony and PlayStation for negligence with personal user information, it is more arguable than ever that the government needs to play a bigger role in cyber-policing. And that's something that always ignites a tremendous debate - which in this case is already well underway.
Almost from the time the Harper government arrived in office in 2006, they have been pushing to update controversial laws that govern "lawful access" and related cyber-transgressions. It fits with the whole "tough on crime" theme that the Conservatives have more or less branded as their own. Concentrated media markets, furthermore, are relatively easy to regulate. Especially if you're a majority government.
Three such bills — which focus on information disclosure, mandated surveillance technologies and new police powers — have already been introduced, although they died on the operating table in March when the election was called. When the Conservatives won their majority, they pledged to re-introduce these bills within 100 days.
More specifically, Bill C-50, the Improving Access to Investigative Tools for Serious Crimes Act would make it easier to get warrants to intercept private communications.
The broader Bill C-51 is the Investigative Powers for the 21st Century Act. It would give law enforcement agencies broader powers to delve into Internet and telephone transmissions and would create a new range of criminal offences related to computer viruses and hacking.
Bill C-52, the Investigating and Preventing Criminal Electronic Communications Act is perhaps the most controversial because it would require Internet service providers to make their networks intercept-capable as well as accessible to law enforcement agencies along with detailed subscriber information.
There is, of course, only so much a national government can do in any of these cases because borders are usually irrelevant. But the exposure of high-profile scandals like the one caused by the unethical behaviour of one corporation certainly tilts the balance in favour of the hands-on approach that so many net-heads argue against.
And that's a story which has any number of sides.