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Rebekah Brooks: Ginger of the Week

As far as high profile redheads are concerned, Rebekah Brooks has really set the bar high this week. Not only is she one of the most powerful and influential individuals in the country at the moment, but she is at the centre of one of the biggest scandals in contemporary British history culminating in the closure of one of Britain’s oldest and longest-running newspapers.

In case you’ve been living in a ditch for the past week, Rebekah Brooks used to be the editor of the News of the World, a Sunday tabloid paper loosely derivative of The Sun (and for all intents and purposes, the Sunday Sun under another name). The News of the World, initially a serious and credible newspaper, gained a reputation for reporting celebrity gossip, sleaze and sex scandals, with a heavy emphasis on sensationalist headlines and photos. Naturally, it became extremely popular and along with The Sun was the biggest-selling newspaper in the country by quite some margin, giving it a huge amount of influence over public opinion – a fact very much acknowledged by those in power in this country, but I’ll get to that.

News of the World - final edition front cover

Apart from destroying the odd celebrity’s life for no apparent reason, all seemed rosy at the News of the World for many years as it maintained its lofty position thanks to an uncanny ability to nail exclusive stories on a regular basis. For the most part this was put down to an aggressive but enterprising attitude from its journalists, who used occasionally questionable but begrudgingly defensible tactics such as climbing up trees with telephoto lenses and generally treading the fine line between nosiness and spying. The problem, as it has emerged in the last couple of weeks, is that they also heavily relied on phone hacking, which is unquestionably illegal.

By ‘phone hacking’ we mean using whatever means necessary to listen in on people’s private phone conversations and voicemail messages without their knowledge or consent. For the most part this practice was employed to uncover celebrity scoops and government sleaze, both of which were interesting to the public (note: this is not the same as ‘in the public interest’) and as such a blind eye was turned. That is until it was alleged that phone hacking was also used in much more personal cases such as kidnapping and murder victims, most notably in the case of the Soham murders in 2002 when two schoolgirls went missing and were eventually found to have been murdered. While they were missing the News of the World, under Rebekah Brooks’ editorship at the time, allegedly hacked into the two girls’ mobile phones, listened to and deleted messages from the voicemail boxes to ensure there was space left for new messages to be stored: not so that they could report info to the police, but so they could be the first to get exclusive news on their disappearances if something cropped up on the voicemails. The girls’ families, meanwhile, were also regularly calling the girls’ mobiles and each time the voicemail box went from full to having free space, they believed that the girls themselves were checking and deleting voicemails. In other words, the families believed the girls were still alive when, sadly, they weren’t.

This particular incident was the spark that ignited a huge fire under the News of the World’s phone hacking practices, much of which took place under Rebekah’s stewardship. Following intense scrutiny, further malpractice has been uncovered including payments being made to the police for information regarding certain stories, and a suspiciously close relationship between the News of the World and prime minister David Cameron. Rebekah herself moved on from being News of the World editor in 2003, first becoming editor of sister paper The Sun, and then in 2009 becoming Chief Executive of News International, the huge media organization which owns The Sun, The News of the World, The Times, The Sunday Times and is currently front runner to take over BSkyB (which News Corp, the parent company, already owns about 40% of).

Of course, under such circumstances one would expect Rebekah to resign, and supposedly she has offered to do so twice – and been refused twice by Rupert Murdoch, the media tycoon who owns News International. Instead, her job was spared at the expense of the entire staff of the News of the World, who understandably were furious about the sacrifice.

Rebekah now faces police interrogation. Where that will lead, who knows, although I suspect her hugely powerful social group will go a long way to justice being watered down should she be found guilty of anything. That’s sadly the way the world works.

And so Rebekah, for managing to save her own job by shutting down the UK’s biggest weekly newspaper, through such impressive infamy is awarded our Ginger of the Week award.