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British Panel Told Phone-Hacking Was Necessary


The British government continues investigating the phone-hacking scandal at newspapers owned by Rupert Murdoch. More than a dozen journalists and editors have been arrested, top police and media executives have lost their jobs and an official ethics investigation may challenge the whole idea that the British press can regulate itself. And then, a former features editor for one of Murdoch's papers stole the show at a government hearing yesterday.

Here's NPR media correspondent David Folkenflik.

DAVID FOLKENFLIK, BYLINE: Most journalists testifying before the inquiry have into followed one of two paths. They've either been reflective about needed changes or defensive about the importance of a free press. Not former reporter Paul McMullen. For him, it's been a great ride.

PAUL MCMULLEN: I absolutely loved giving chase to celebrities, I must admit. It was - before Diana died - you know, it was such good fun. I mean how many jobs can you actually have car chases in?

FOLKENFLIK: Diana, being Princess Diana, killed back in 1997 after a car crash in Paris - her driver speeding to escape paparazzi. McMullen is the former features editor of Murdoch's now-shuttered News of the World. And yesterday, he functioned as the British tabloid trade's untrammeled id - dismissing the very idea of privacy.

MCMULLEN: Privacy is particularly good for pedophiles and if you keep that in mind, privacy is for pedos. Fundamentally, no one else needs it. Privacy is evil. It brings out the worst qualities in people; brings out hypocrisy. It allows them to do bad things

FOLKENFLIK: McMullen said hacking into cell phone messages, bribing police for confidential information and other illegal practices are perfectly acceptable when reporters are trying to get at the truth.

MCMULLEN: I have a huge amount of cynicism for both Hugh Grant and Steve Coogan, who have really done rather well with their careers by banging on about their privacy. You don't need to do that. All you got to do is jump off the stage for five minutes and people lose interest in you very, very quickly.

FOLKENFLIK: McMullen says he's driven by anger at the past editors of News of the World - Rebekah Brooks and Andrew Coulson. Both had built up close ties to Prime Minister David Cameron in his rise to power. McMullen, unrepentant, called them the scum of journalism. Not for the abuses he says they approved and knew of, but for failing to stand behind the journalists carrying out their assignments.

Other witnesses have testified to the bruising power accumulated by Murdoch's tabloids. BBC News presenter Anne Diamond had asked for privacy for the funeral of her infant son and was distraught that The Sun splashed photographs on its pages. Diamond testified a top Sun editor then sought her help in a public campaign - against SIDS deaths - and wouldn't take a no.

ANNE DIAMOND: And then he said, well, we're going to do it anyway - whether or not you join with us in doing it - and frankly it would look very bad if you don't.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN: And how did that make you feel?

DIAMOND: Emotionally blackmailed by the people who I felt had just trampled all over - all over our dignity, all over our child's grave.

FOLKENFLIK: Nick Davies's reporting in the Guardian broke the phone hacking and bribery scandal wide open. Davies testified about his disillusionment with the media.

NICK DAVIES: I do not trust this industry to regulate itself. And I say this, as I love reporting. I want us to be free. You have got a huge intellectual puzzle here in front of you, into how do you regulate a free press?

FOLKENFLIK: British law makers are expected to take that question up after reviewing the inquiries findings next year.

David Folkenflik, NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

David Folkenflik was described by Geraldo Rivera of Fox News as "a really weak-kneed, backstabbing, sweaty-palmed reporter." Others have been kinder. The Columbia Journalism Review, for example, once gave him a "laurel" for reporting that immediately led the U.S. military to institute safety measures for journalists in Baghdad.