I note, with some amusement, that shares in Sunday Mirror publisher Trinity Mirror have soared to their highest level in a year. A development not unconnected with Rupert Murdoch’s draconian decision yesterday to close down its principal rival, the News of the World.
Which gooseberry bush were these City folk puffing Trinity’s stock born under? The knee-jerk thinking seems to be that the NoW’s nemesis is the Sunday Mirror’s good fortune. All that £40m-worth of advertising formerly populating the News of the Screws will have to find a new home. And where better targeted than the Sunday Mirror, whose own annual revenue is languishing at something under £20m? According to City analyst Alex de Groot, that figure could increase by over 50% to £30m.
Er, not necessarily Alex. Beyond the perspective of the next few Sundays, this is no zero sum game. Murdoch’s misery is a reverse for the whole red-top sector, and the Sunday Mirror may well turn out to be one of the prime collateral casualties.
Why so? The phone-hacking scandal and associated police corruption is now to be the remit of a judicial inquiry. Not that I have much faith in the individual acumen of the judge, whoever that may be, presiding over it. Lord Hutton’s wilfully eccentric conclusions drawn from his own inquiry into the ‘sexed up’ WMD dossier cured me of any such illusions. What did impress me about the Hutton Inquiry was the wealth of uncontrollable detail that spilled into the public domain. I suspect a similar torrent of information will pour out of this, as yet unnamed, inquiry (relayed verbatim, no doubt, on The Guardian’s website, if nowhere else).
The key word here is “uncontrollable”. It is no longer possible, if it were ever desirable, to restrict the terms of reference of such an inquiry to the News of the World. It will, inevitably, have to investigate the whole culture of phone-tapping and police bungs rife within the tabloids these past 15 years.
Trinity has vigorously denied any complicity. That’s not strictly true, though, is it? In terms of sensationalism, the case of Paul Marsden MP may not be up there with NoW’s blatant and cynical tapping of war widows’ voicemail messages. But it tells an unsavoury tale all the same.
The Lib-Dem MP decided to step down in 2006 after a spate of revelations in the Sunday Mirror detailing various adulterous affairs. No doubt the Sunday Mirror had every right to expose the “love cheat” exploits of the errant MP. Less evidently justifiable are the means by which it seems to have acquired its information. According to Marsden these involved voicemail hacking and impersonating a policeman. It may be of more than passing interest that the Sunday Mirror reporter responsible for the Marsden story subsequently moved to NoW, at a time when Andy Coulson was editor. I’m sure Marsden himself would happily update us on the details.
If the Marsden case proves more than a bizarre lapse of judgement, I wonder how long advertisers will remain at the Sunday Mirror? And what will become of Trinity’s share price then?
UPDATE 23/7/11: I wonder who the ‘Master of the Dark Arts’ is? Sure enough, the Sunday Mirror is now up to its neck in phone-hacking scandal, after a Newsnight exposé. Here’s an excerpt, reported in The Guardian:
The source said: “One reporter, who was very good at it, was called ‘the Master of Dark Arts’. At one point in 2004, it seemed like it was the only way people were getting scoops. If they didn’t just randomly hack people in the news, they would use it to stand up stories that people had denied.”
According to the former employee, the “dark arts” were used to try to beat the News of the World at its own game.