News Corp’s Irish scandal may yet prove to be Murdoch’s Achilles heel
Made up IRA sex scandal story and others now come back to haunt
partly because Ms Proetta’s libel settlement was not reached until a few years after the initial
traducing of her name and reputation.
The judge in the Carmen Proetta v Sunday Times libel trial, Mr Justice Drake, was scathing about the
attempt by Times Newspapers to use Wilkins as a witness in its defence:
"It is conceded that Wilkins is a man with an appalling record, and it appears from documents
that I have seen that Wilkins asked for payment in return for giving the statement and that the
defendants, after the statement was given, did pay £2,000 to Wilkins's sister at his request,
which they falsely described as a consultancy fee."
In the sake of fairness, it should be pointed out that certain Sunday Times journalists like Rosie
Waterhouse were appalled at the way her newspaper had covered the Gibraltar killings and their
aftermath. Ms Waterhouse resigned her post over the affair after accusing her own paper of
having left itself - “wide open to accusations that we had set out to prove one point of view and
misrepresented and misquoted interviews ...”
The Sunday Times was subsequently to lose an even greater sum of money in the year 2000 onwards
by again defending the reputation of British security force units in Northern Ireland (now widely
accepted as tarnished) after it libelled the journalist and film maker Seán McPhilemy who had
claimed collusion between the security forces and pro-British killer gangs. It is true that McPhilemy
has been successfully challenged in other regards but it is nonetheless remarkable that an English
jury found McPhilemy’s account of RUC terror tactics wholly believable when finding completely
against the Sunday Times. Moreover, in this libel trial too, evidence is now emerging via the Leveson
Inquiry into Newspaper ethics, and elsewhere, that News International has possibly engaged in
improper practices in the context of this trial.
Overall, it is the practice of paying dubious sources, who were very often police narks and/or
security force personnel to source, propagate or concoct stories that has become a notorious
hallmark of Murdoch titles. But there is a crucial difference, as ever, between Ireland and the UK.
In England, we now know that Murdoch newspapers enjoyed a special relationship with the
upper echelons of the security services, police and political classes. Or more accurately, with
the conservative wing of these houses. There News International libels, hacking and smear
stories mainly affected celebrity and sports personalities. But where Ireland and Irish issues were
concerned, this special relationship gave an inevitably political edge to the libelling and smears.
The likes of Carmen Proetta were targeted because of the robustly right wing and “Rule Britannia”
approach of Murdoch newspapers over Irish affairs. But if we hadn’t learned the lessons of the
Carmen Proetta case, we should really have put two and two together by the time the New York
Post, amongst other newspaper brands, smeared George Mitchell’s senior aide at a crucial moment
in the Irish Peace Process in 1996. Indeed Senator George Mitchell himself went so far as to say that
the problem lay not just with UK newspapers but with part of the British administration itself, for
whom the entry of Sinn Féin into government was a step too far:
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