Julian Huppert on the Hacking Scandal

17:38 Thursday 14th July 2011
Drivetime BBC Radio Cambridgeshire

ANDY BURROWS: Just before five o’clock it was confirmed that alongside News International’s Chief Executive Rebekah Brooks, who is set to appear before a committee of MPs to answer questions about phone hacking next Tuesday, will also be Rupert Murdoch and his son James, who own News Corporation. They’d initially declined to appear on the same day as Rebekah Brooks, but then a summons was issued, and everyone seems to have rather changed their minds. They’ll appear before a group of MPs who make up the Home Affairs Select Committee. They heard evidence from those senior members of the Met Police earlier this week. One member of the committee is the Cambridge MP Julian Huppert. Mr. Huppert is on the line now. Hello to you.
JULIAN HUPPERT: Hi Andy. How are you?
ANDY BURROWS: Very well, thank you very much. Perhaps slightly surprised that you’ve managed to convince Rebekah Brooks, Rupert Murdoch and his son James to appear before you.
JULIAN HUPPERT: Sadly it won’t be me unfortunately there. It’s the Culture Media and Sport Select Committee. I’m very jealous.
ANDY BURROWS: Ah. So many different committees.
JULIAN HUPPERT: Different committees. We had the cops.  We thought we’d done well with that. They’ve trumped us with this section. But I’ve been quite involved with that as well. I think actually it was the fact that the Murdochs now must be looking at what’s happening internationally. There are questions being asked in the US. People have asked the FBI to investigate what’s happening there. Their shareholders are upset. Their board is expressing concerns. And I think the imagery of running away and fleeing the country to avoid answering questions didn’t look very good.
ANDY BURROWS: So is this a case of MPs taking decisive action, or money talks? Are they more worried about the MPs, or the share price of the company?
JULIAN HUPPERT: I think it’s a bit of both. All of these things are a balance. I think because MPs took very decisive action .. I was just outside the room when the committee issued the summons. It was very interesting to hear it with all the journalists .. that put the pressure on , which meant that they simply couldn’t get out of it. We have legal powers to summons them to come and appear, as long as they are people who are either British citizens, or are inside Britain. So Rupert Murdoch had the option of fleeing the country, but that would look very very shifty.
ANDY BURROWS: How come MPs suddenly feel so emboldened? Because it could be said that some were perhaps frightened by the power of Rupert Murdoch and his son.
JULIAN HUPPERT: Absolutely. Tom Watson and Chris Bryant, both Labour MPs, have fought on this for a number of years, with their own Party telling them to stop. In the LibDems we’ve been complaining about Murdoch. I think we first referred him to the Office of Fair Trading something like 17 years ago, but nobody paid that much attention. We’ve kept it up. But I think part of the thing is that people were terrified of what Murdoch and his media interests would be able to do to people. And I think there is that comfort that if everybody is going for them, it’s a bit safer. But that’s why I particularly pick out firstly some of the LibDems who did stuff early, but in particular Chris Bryant and Tom Watson, who fought a lone campaign on this for many many years. People like .. I joined in last year, Adrian Sanders the year before ..
ANDY BURROWS: We’ll go through the list at some stage Julian no doubt. But is Vince Cable starting to look right now?
JULIAN HUPPERT: Vince was right all along, that we needed to break the power of the Murdoch press. It’s a shame that a rather squalid undercover reporter managed to stop him from being able to do it more directly, but then if he’s been in power, he’d just have said you can’t have this deal. We wouldn’t necessarily have seen this complete collapse that we’re seeing now.
ANDY BURROWS: Right. When it comes to the actual questions that will be put to them though next Tuesday, and it will be an intriguing moment, that’s for sure, do you hope it doesn’t get into the kind of territory that the questioning of the police got into the other day. There was a bit of grandstanding at times, wasn’t there?
JULIAN HUPPERT: I’m not sure there was that much grandstanding. One police officer in particular took a rather histrionic approach to the whole thing. I think it will be very interesting, because all three of them will be carefully briefed, I’m sure, by lawyers. They’ll be very very careful about what they say. I think it will look very bad for them, if all they do is say no comment to pretty much everything they’re asked. because there are lots of serious questions. And I know that the DCMS Committee are working very hard to try to work out what are the lines of enquiry, what are the really key things. I hope it will be really interesting.
ANDY BURROWS: How do you .. there is a certain amount of public opinion and understanding perhaps about this story. How can MPs help translate that, do you think, so people really understand the key issues behind the alleged phone hacking?
JULIAN HUPPERT: Well I think trying to explain what it is. The idea that people can get messages left on your phone. But actually I think it’s wider than phone hacking. I’ve been working with the Hacked Off Campaign, who represent the victims. One of the key issues is that there’s .. it’s called hacking, there’s blagging as well, it’s all really serious, the idea that somebody could get your bank account details, your medical details, all sorts of things about you. And I think one of the really important things is that people should be aware that this information can be gathered by other people. It’s important to be very careful of it. So there’s on the one side, the media shouldn’t be hacking into your bank account details, but equally you need to be a little careful about what information you put out freely on facebook and all that sort of thing.
ANDY BURROWS: But at the same time as well, MPs, regardless of their recommendations, or what comes out of various reports in the future, must also leave room surely for some very serious investigative journalism into power at the top.
JULIAN HUPPERT: Absolutely. And I very much believe in a free press. But the tools that they use have to be legal. There’s also questions frankly about their ethics, and what they choose to investigate. There are things which are very very important to look into, and then there are things which are just a bit seedy, just a bit exciting briefly about private lives of celebrities. I’d like to see more serious investigative journalism of the things that really matter.
ANDY BURROWS: No-one would buy it though, would they?
JULIAN HUPPERT: I think some people would. If you look at the original Watergate stories in the US, that was phenomenally succesful, tha fact that you could uncover all of that. And I hope ..
ANDY BURROWS: We like reading about private lives, don’t we, from time to time? Even you, Julian Huppert, even you in the Liberal Democrat tearoom must pass around the odd copy of a redtop tucked inside a Guardian, from time to time.
JULIAN HUPPERT: (LAUGHS) I’m not sure which way round we put the papers at the moment.
ANDY BURROWS: That’s right.
JULIAN HUPPERT: Yes it can be exciting. But the thing is there are legal methods for reporting things. And there are illegal ones. We’ve seen so many things, the paparazzi breaching privacy, really pushing the line, with people’s children being dragged into things. That’s simply not reasonable. There are basic standards that all journalists should stick to.
ANDY BURROWS: Which perhaps still takes us back to Gordon Brown, and why he went to Rebekah Brooks’ wedding. I’m still a little bit baffled. If we ever get to the bottom of that ..
JULIAN HUPPERT: It’s a bizarre thing to have done. The fact is there’s also a comment I think from Tony Blair today, that he’s been concerned for a while about the close relationship between politicians and the media. You sort of think well, you were the one with the close relationship.
ANDY BURROWS: Right. Anyway, this relationship’s probably getting far too close. We’ve spoken twice in a week. People will be hacking our phones next. Thank you very much. Julian Huppert that is, who is the MP for Cambridge Liberal Democrats.