Beyond Contempt: Does Money Buy Justice?

English: First issue of News of the World, Oct...

English: First issue of News of the World, October 1, 1843 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Peter Jukes has written an important book. The book is important because of what it reveals about UK politics, media, and justice. The case connects these areas. Too often people hear “important book” and immediately think that it is boring. This book is exciting, well written and scary. It is important because of what it reveals about the UK justice system. In the book Mr. Jukes quotes Justice Saunders at the start of the trial that British justice is on trial. While many may not accept the verdicts; many will understand after reading the book that the prosecution was lucky to get the few convictions it did.

Three books within one

There are three books in this book and each is worthy of a sequel. They cover the trial, journalism, the corporate culture. The first book is about the trial that Mr. Jukes live tweeted. The book is based on the tweets he sent while he attended the trial. In itself, this makes the book an interesting read. Although he is quick to admit, there is nothing new in this approach. What is new is the way that he combined the live tweeting, with the fund raising (crowd sourced) and the way the work was collected and maintained by Gabrielle Laine Peters, J Claire Pollard and Jon Lippitt. The effort to create the book suggests a possible future for journalism and open justice. The process to get to the book is worthy a book in itself if only as an instruction manual or a how to guide. As Mr. Jukes notes, there are some parallels to other open source investigation sites like Bellingcat.

Money may not buy justice, but it helps you stay out of jail.

The book covers the trial well and despite being present for nearly every day of the trial, it does not bog down into burdensome detail. Mr Jukes keeps the narrative flowing with the specific set pieces that mark the high and low points for the prosecution and the defence. As Justice Saunders pointed out British Justice was on trial. At one level, this is always true. Any trial puts British justice on display, but this trial was different. The power ranged against the state was awesome. In this book, we can see where justice is served and how the trial unfolds. Mr. Jukes is a talented writer with an eye and ear for personality and performance. His writing skills shine through as he captures set pieces as well as emotions. He describes well a fundamental problem of UK justice. In this case, the defence outgunned the prosecution. In a democracy, this is worrying as an individual (or a corporation) could mount a defence against the state, the will of the people, and render it incapable of pursuing justice. However, people have always been of the view that the average individual and even the well off individual could not muster this level of resources. However, the justice system is not well prepared to deal with corporations. As Mr. Jukes writes, there were 6 QCs working against the prosecution’s one QC. The imbalance of resources had a direct outcome on the trial. The imbalance of power has parallels in the OJ Simpson case in the United States where his legal “dream team” took apart the prosecution’s case point by point.[1]  However, the issue is not money or “buying” justice.

Can corporations be brought to justice?

The trial was fair within the constraints set by democracy. It was a display of corporate power to protect its own. The difference for the corporation and the Crown is that the Crown can do this indefinitely, so long as the public interest remains, while corporations will eventually run out of money. With that knowledge, justice is often served as most settle rather than continue the cost.  This trial shows the weakness and strength of UK justice in particular circumstances. If you have enough connections and enough resources you can argue the state to standstill, which is what News Corp did on behalf of its officers. The issue is something beyond the court’s control and reflects the UK political culture and the way democracy expects or understands justice. The Courts have no say over the resources a corporation can bring to the table. Can corporations be brought to justice?

Is a tabloid newspaper an extension of the entertainment industry?

The second book is about journalism. In this Mr. Jukes makes interesting points about journalism’s culture and business. Journalism, especially investigative journalism, and investigative journalism in a tabloid, is a rough business. There is no way to hide that fact. The competition for stories and sources is fierce. The journalists were not secretive simply because they were doing something illegal, they were secretive because rival papers, or rival journalists, even journalists from their own paper would steal their story. The problem, though, is the web and social media are changing journalism. The web opens up information faster and more effectively than the phone hacking can provide. The idea of celebrity is also different as the web creates different sources for promotion and publicity which would have made the News of the World vulnerable. In the trial, we see some of the ways in which phone hacking corrupted journalism and undermined the journalists, especially investigative journalists’ best instincts.

The book also reveals the way tabloid newspapers has become an extension of the entertainment industry. The symbiotic relationship is successful even if it is dysfunctional, as the fall of Max Clifford indicates. Curiously, Rebecca Brooks was sent early in her career to negotiate with Max Clifford and later negotiated a secret deal to avoid unwanted publicity through litigation. How entertainment and celebrity fuelled the NoTW needs to be understood to put the competition and the phone hacking into context. The phone hacking started for celebrity stories and began to drift into other areas such as politicians and the Royals which led to the downfall. The relationship of entertainment and journalism within this murky world is worth a separate book.

Corporate culture reflected how they conducted their business

The third book is about the corporate culture. In this book there are insights we can draw from the relationships Mr. Jukes describes. Here I found his skills as a dramatist gave the book something beyond court reporting. He did not try to make these insights like a soap opera. Instead, he showed how the company’s culture was like a soap opera. The corporate culture of News of the World and News International was toxic. The competition within the newsroom and the boardroom did not make this a nice or happy place to work. One can see this in the way that Mr. Coulson had to say, despite the evidence being presented, “I am not a bully”. You know you have a problem when you have to reassure people you are honest, friendly or not a bully. Though never present, Rupert Murdoch haunted the case. As News International is a family firm one has to consider the corporate culture as an extension of the family culture. In this view, Rupert Murdoch sits like an aged King looking at a crumbling, yet still effective, empire.

Rebekah Brooks is that skilled, which is why she was acquitted

As a back story to the trial, we can see Mr. Murdoch like King Lear pining after his Cordelia (Rebekah Brooks). After the trial and related revelations, Mrs Brooks is too toxic to return to News Corp and the other Murdochs would not allow her to interlope. They and others underestimated Rebekah Brooks’ ability to find her way into the inner circle because they do not possess her uncanny ability to find power and seduce it. Access is what works at the corporate level and Mrs Brooks’ talent was to understand power so as to obtain access. Her skills remind me of President Lyndon Johnson who also has an uncanny ability to find power, pursue, and ingratiate himself with it to bend it to his will. Unlike Johnson who often did with a scowl, Rebekah Brooks seems to do with a smile. Their methods may have been as different as their goals, but both understand power. This is why many people underestimate Mrs Brooks. They believe that she is either directed or protected by someone, like Mr. Murdoch, or that she only succeeds because of her female charms. Neither holds true, but for many it is hard to accept. Her success in Murdoch’s kingdom was due to her skills. Although Mr. Murdoch is only a shadow over the trial, we can see why Mrs Brooks was considered so valuable in her ability to survive the cross examination from Mr. Edis and to emerge unscathed from the trial. I think that Mr. Murdoch understood her value and why she was his priority in the case. In many ways, her downfall is worse than the alleged betrayal by his wife. He can get another wife; he cannot create another heir to his empire.

A book that needs to be read in context to appreciate its value

Despite my praise, I have to say that this is not a perfect book. It is not a definitive guide. As it mainly covers the trial, it needs to be read with two other books Hack Attack by Nick Davies and Dial M for Murdoch by Tom Watson and Martin Hickman. Beyond Contempt does suffer slightly from the speed at which it was written and put together. There are places where the narrative is not smooth and the logic seems to have gaps. However, these are only minor distractions and the overall tone, pace, and skill of the writing is excellent. A second edition that expands on the context would provide more details for some examples that are only mentioned rather than explored and fill the minor gaps.

On the whole, I recommend this book to those who followed the Leveson Inquiry or who follow the ongoing saga of Murdoch News Corp. The book will also be of interest and use to general readers on media, journalism, and UK justice.

[1] News Corp paid the defendants legal expenses.

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About lawrence serewicz

An American living and working in the UK trying to understand the American idea and explain it to others. The views in this blog are my own for better or worse.
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8 Responses to Beyond Contempt: Does Money Buy Justice?

  1. Pingback: UNCENSORED: Beyond Contempt: How Peter Jukes invented a new way of funding court reporting and found himself investigatedss | Live Tweeting the hacking trial

  2. Pingback: Twitter and the naked tabloid editor | Media Meditations

  3. Geoff Cox says:

    You have Justice Edis at the start of the above – the judge was Mr Justice Saunders who made the comment about British Justice. Mr Edis QC was the lead prosecution lawyer.

  4. I’m a journalist. I do not condone hacking phones or email accounts and have never paid a cop or other public official (though I can see justification for doing some or all of that in certain circumstances whole admitting it’s a tricky area). But I cannot shake off the feeling that, while I hold no brief for any of those in the recent trial and am relieved never to have worked at that end of the trade, going behind a jury’s verdict is at least as bad as hacking someone’s phone. Juries are not known for sympathising with the press or journalists in the same way they do, for example, with celebs. So is it not possible that this jury considered the prosecution case appallingly thin? I have Peter J’s book on order and expect to pick up my copy when back in the UK very soon, and will read it with interest and an open mind.

    • Colin,
      Thank you for your comment. I appreciate the feedback
      You are correct. The jury came to a conclusion about the prosecution’s case and decided. However, the odds were weighted towards the defence by the nature of the trial as Mr Jukes explains in his book. There were 6 QCs working for the defence. There was one working for the prosecution. The Prosecution had nowhere near the budget the defence had for that trial. Thus, like OJ simpson, a good defence team can find the resources to attack any prosecution case and raise enough doubt. This is the adversarial system, but it does raise the question whether a corporation that can litigate at his level, Mr. Jukes estimate at £30 million, can be brought to book. As you say, the jury decided.
      Thanks for your comment.

      best,

      Lawrence

  5. ‘while admitting” … sorry for the typo

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