The world was rocked when it was announced in July that the News of the World was being shut down in light of cell phone hacking revelations. The aforementioned paper was 168 years old and sold approximately 3 million copies per week. The Sunday tabloid frequently targeted celebrities, the royal family and world leaders in search of a scandal and had a reputation for using questionable methods. When it was revealed that journalists were hacking into people’s voicemails the public was completely outraged.
In addition to celebrity hackings, it was discovered that a News of the World investigator had private information about families of soldiers killed in Iraq and Afghanistan. It was also believed that the victims from the 7/7 London bombing may have been targeted as well.
One of the particular stories that lead to the shutdown of the paper involved Milly Dowler, a 13 year-old English girl who was murdered in 2002. Journalists from the News of the World interfered with the investigation of Milly’s disappearance by hacking into her cell phone. Throughout the investigation, some of Milly’s voicemails were deleted, which gave her family, friends, and police hope that she was still alive.
On November 4, 2011 Rupert Murdoch’s News International announced a compensation plan for the victims of the phone hacking scandal. According the company they are trying to set up a “speedy, cost-effective alternative to litigation” to try to right their wrongs. However, the appearance of generosity and care is being met with the suspicion that they are simply trying to avoid hefty attorney fees and more damage to its already fragile reputation.
Former High Court judge Charles Gray is the independent adjudicator and will determine how victims should be compensated. It is reported that each claim will be handled within six months, and will offer 10 percent more than the victims could anticipate receiving in court. Along with the settlements, there will likely be a clause that claimants cannot pursue further litigation against News International. Police have said that there could potentially be 5,795 victims.
News International confirmed that it reached a settlement with the family of Milly Dowler for £2 million ($3.2 million). In addition, £1 million will be donated to a charity in her honor. The company has previously settled claims with celebrities who have been hacked.
Since July, more than a dozen former journalists from the company were arrested for their role in hacking. The complete invasion of one’s privacy and intimate conversations is such an extreme violation that it might be challenging to determine how victims should be compensated. Also, there are potentially more people that have yet to realize they are victims.
The idea of this compensation plan will be financial in nature, and it brings to light questions such as- how much do you value emotional suffering? How much do you value having your private and intimate thoughts and conversations blasted to an audience of millions? How much money did News of the World profit by invading your privacy and selling it? What is sufficient, and how much is too much? These questions are so hard to answer, in part because of our individual assessments on the value of privacy. Although money cannot undo the damage caused by these invasions, it is perhaps the only solace victims can take.
Furthermore, we are left wondering what drove investigator Glenn Mulcaire? Why would police officers accept bribes in exchange for information on crimes? And, how did this go on for so long without the top executives of the company allegedly not knowing anything? This story seems to signify an extreme interpretation of desperate times calling for desperate measures.
The scandal brings into question business ethics and practices as well as legal system failures. Companies must no longer look at the bottom line in terms of what will sell, but in terms of what is and is not an acceptable means to an end.
We live in a society that values knowing intimate details of others lives. This is shown through the success of shows such as Keeping Up With the Kardashians, The Real Housewives and Teen Mom among others. However, the participants in these shows have consented and are being compensated financially. They are not victims of an unethical investigator, but rather choose to invite the public into their lives.
Media outlets have been encouraged to dig into the private lives of celebrities to sell magazines, and gain viewers. However, the line between investigative work and actually hacking into a persons phone should be quite bold. Unfortunately, it was not for Glenn Mulcaire and others involved.
If News International follows through with their plan to process claims within the next six months, more will be known at that time as to what the final payout will be. Hopefully the victims will start the healing process through the resolution of this painful experience. Moreover, this should send a powerful message to other companies engaging in questionable practices: the bottom-line is not all that matters, it is the in-between that counts.