STEVEN ERLANGER & STEPHEN CASTLE
The ethics of the once mighty and still powerful British newspaper industry went on trial here Monday,with two former top editors from Rupert Murdochs media empire facing criminal accusations involving phone hacking and obstructing justice.
The case features one of Murdochs favourites,Rebekah Brooks,and another editor who became a top aide to Prime Minister David Cameron,Andy Coulson. The trial is expected to be aggressive and detailed,with the potential for yet more revelations about the inner workings of the competitive world of British tabloid journalism and its tangled relationships with the political elite and law-enforcement officials.
The two main defendants,both 45,arrived early at Londons Central Criminal Court,known as the Old Bailey,in a storm of photographers flashes. Mondays opening of the trial,expected to last at least four months,was devoted to impaneling a jury. There are six other defendants in the case.
The trial,in which all the defendants deny guilt,may also add momentum to efforts to regulate Britains obstreperous press. That effort hit a stalemate after a lengthy revelatory inquiry,led by Lord Justice Sir Brian Leveson,ended last year after exposing a toxic web of criminal practices by the news media,including computer hacking and bribery of police officials.
The ethics of the whole of the British press are again in the spotlight with this trial,said Brian Cathcart,a former newspaper deputy editor and director of Hacked Off,an organization campaigning for media reform and tighter regulation. Britain has had years of media intrusion into peoples lives without a public interest – of distortion,bullying,even blackmailing,he said,as well as other illegal activities,like obtaining personal data under false pretenses,known here as blagging.