Sunday, April 1, 2012

News Corporation hacking for pay TV business benefit

The story from Neil Chenoworth in the Australian Financial Review and also played on UK television late in March suggested major computer hacking of codes to undermine pay TV competitors of News Corp. Denials all round from News, including an extraordinary front page article in The Weekend Australian's opinion section denying pretty well everything. It brings to mind Shakespeare's Hamlet maxim about "protesting too much methinks" (and too early).

The pertinence of this to things digital is that the case has been made by Chenoworth and others that in the 1990s when hacking was used by News hackers it was not illegal. Here is another instance where digital technology was well ahead of the law. Writing in the AFR Laura Pringle suggested that there was nothing illegal at the time, in the practice of hacking cable and satellite pay TV video. I happen to disagree strongly with that view. From a civil society perspective, there should be some self-regulation, otherwise we start from the level of barbarity. I suspect that News Corporation would prefer not to be measured at that level.

More importantly, Pringle makes the point that there has been no strong response from the Australian Government to the AFR allegations.

"...have you noticed a slight difference in approach to the one the government took last year in the midst of the News of the World phone hacking scandal?
That was enough to prompt an inquiry into the regulation of the media, the Finkelstein inquiry.
Now, allegations that a major media player may have skewed the competitiveness of the pay television industry are something the government will rely on regulators to investigate. In fact, it was hard to see anyone from the government through the large dust cloud on the horizon when this story broke on Wednesday.
One also sensed a certain sluggishness among government lawyers, who seemed to be of the view that it was all probably OK since some of the emails had featured in unsuccessful court cases in the past.
Sluggishness, or a lack of political will to further provoke a media giant from a government in deep political trouble? Take your pick."

This is serious. It must be assumed that there's silence about these latest allegations because they are so serious that some things are not talked about and acted upon. Then of course there is the small ocean of News lawyers working at the push back against the allegations. See a letters that the AFR has published from NDS the company that News set up that did the hacking.

NDS letter to  the AFR

Perhaps "the public" as observed in the Leveson Inquiry in the UK will shine some sunlight on this grubby matter.

Here is The Financial Times
"[Allegations made by The Australian Financial Review, BBC and PBS] come at a sensitive time, when Mr Murdoch’s company faces police investigations and an assessment of whether it is a “fit and proper” media owner in the UK; inquiries by the Federal Bureau of Investigation and other US agencies; and an Australian review of a bid for Austar by Foxtel, in which News Corp owns a stake."

Talk about piling on!