Guardian media editor Dan Sabbagh answers his papers critics with a straight bat in this article arguing that there was much more to the closure of the News of the World than the false allegation that journalists deleted Milly Dowler’s phone-messages giving her parents “false hope” she was alive.
He points out that, while it is now understood that The Guardian was wrong on this point, there is no question that the News of the World did listen to Milly’s voicemails. And he notes that in the three days between that first Guardian story – published on 5 July – and the decision to close the News of the World other damaging revelations emerged elsewhere in the press.
The Dowler story had an enormous impact, taking the hacking scandal beyond celebrities and politicians. But it was not the only story about alleged NoW illegal activity to emerge in the three days before the Murdochs swung the axe. The Daily Telegraph followed with two influential scoops that added to the mix. On 6 July, it splashed on “Hackers ‘snooped on Soham families’,” and also reported that Scotland Yard was contacting the families of victims of the 7/7 bombings amid concerns that they had been targeted.
A day later, the Telegraph splashed with “Families of war dead ‘hacked,'” this time reporting that bereaved relatives of soldiers killed in Iraq and Afghanistan may have been targeted and the London Evening Standard wrote that Metropolitan police officers had allegedly received £100,000 in unlawful payments from NoW journalists.
There was a wider context. Rupert Murdoch’s News Corporation was, at the time, close to winning approval for its highly controversial bid for BSkyB.
The Guardian has faced widespread criticism over its reporting: from Sun managing editor Richard Caseby at the Leveson Inquiry, in other newspapers, from Jules Stenson on Newsnight and from many journalists writing in the comments section of this website.