The potential significance of the decision by the English prosecution authorities to arraign for
trial a number of very senior figures of News Corp’s UK division (News International) cannot be
underestimated in terms of company compliance laws in the United States. As the Guardian
newspaper reported on Tuesday, if senior News International executives Andy Coulson and Rebekah
Brooks are found guilty of having made illegal payments to police and public officials, they will have
also have been found to have contravened America’s “Foreign Corrupt Practices Act”.
The fact that this case, which also involves a senior Ministry of Defence employee and other News
International employees, is now set for trial places a restriction on any reference to the defendants,
but it in general terms it has been established beyond doubt that Rupert Murdoch’s News
International subsidiary indulged in corrupt practices involving cell phone and computer hacking and
the payment of bribes for information. The question now is simply how far this went up the chain
of command. There is, however, one huge element of News International’s illegal and unethical
behaviour that has been completely ignored so far and this can be summed up in one word: Ireland.
Why has News International’s reckless and corrupt behaviour in Ireland been forgotten during
all the coverage stateside of the News International bribes and hacking scandal? Have American
commentators forgotten so quickly that Martha Pope, one of the most respected civil servants in the
Senate and senior aide to Senator George Mitchell was smeared in December 1996 via a concocted
story about a love affair with former leading IRA man Gerry Kelly? This story, which the New York
Post ran with the headline “Sex Scandal Perils IRA Truce” almost derailed the peace process and
Senator Mitchell described it as one of the most despicable things he had ever experienced as a
More significantly still, it is clear that the smearing of Martha Pope (and by extension Senator
Mitchell himself) was no aberration; no one off event. For it follows a pattern of Irish smear, libel
and hacking exploits produced by Murdoch titles based in the UK and Ireland that had the overall
effect of casting suspicion on the peace process and those who sought reform of both the security
forces in Northern Ireland and its once staunchly pro-British and anti-Catholic institutions.
Lest we forget, in 1988, a young woman called Carmen Proetta made the mistake of honestly
reporting what she saw from her kitchen window as a unit of Britain’s elite SAS executed 3 unarmed
IRA members on the island of Gibraltar. Ms Proetta’s graphic account of the coup de grace shots
to the head being administered to the already stricken IRA members completely undermined the
official version of events, dutifully asserted by a gung-ho British media - that the SAS had fired
in self-defence. However, News International newspapers then began to question not only Ms
Proetta’s ability to recall these events properly but also her personal character. The tabloid “Sun”
newspaper described Ms Proetta as 'The tart of Gib', but it is more useful to look at the approach
used by the ‘A market’ Sunday Times to besmirch Carmen Proetta’s reputation because this late
1980s style “personality hack” carried important pointers for the future journalistic approach of
News International titles.
Carmen Proetta eventually won a string of libel awards from Murdoch newspapers and other titles
but the use by Times newspapers of a drug criminal and secret service “agent”, Joseph Wilkins to try
and smear Carmen Proetta as an escort agency Madam in its libel trial was not given wide coverage,
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 ...”
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