What now for Rebekah Brooks?

If the case against Rebekah Brooks and her colleagues could not be proven beyond reasonable doubt then quite rightly, they walk free.


But we must resist the tendency of Brooks’ most vehement supporters to use words such as “vindicated”. Whatever the position with the criminal law, Brooks presided over one of the low points in the history of journalism. Her professional reputation is in ruins.

It is an irony that news of the verdict for Brooks came in the same week as that against Peter Greste. Here we have the dark and the light side of the profession standing in the public eye side by side.

Dishonest and unethical journalism about people’s personal lives on the one side. Courageous straight reporting on important matters in difficult circumstances on the other.

One journalist walks free. The other is jailed for seven years. Bitter stuff for the Greste family.

During Brooks’ watch, the newsroom was effectively a centre of organised crime, with illegal practices happening on an industrial scale.

On a pragmatic journalistic level, the verdict will be greeted with scepticism. Any editor, faced with a decision to publish a story, wants to know whether it is true and how the reporter came by the facts.

It is hard for to believe that Brooks, so astute, aggressive and intelligent, never asked those questions or was successfully duped by the replies. Beyond reasonable doubt, though, is a very high standard of proof. She has always denied knowing what was going on.

Meanwhile there has been some suggestion that Brooks could be sent to Australia for a role in the local chapter of News Corporation.

So far as I know this is no more than speculation. The Poms, after all, still tend to see this country as somewhere to stow their social problems.

But it is intriguing to think about  how this would work, and the implications. The last person who tried to disrupt the existing power structures in News Corporation Australia was Kim Williams, who was made CEO but didn’t last long.

Brooks is a very different person, apparently uniquely close to Murdoch himself. But what job would they give her? Hard to imagine her in a junior post.

Perhaps the editorship of the Daily Telegraph, the nation’s shrillest tabloid (though a very different publication to what the News of the World used to be)?

But that post is held by Paul “Boris” Whittaker, who with the editor in chief of The Australian, Chris Mitchell, is one of the most powerful people in the existing corporation. What would they do with Boris?

The arrival of Brooks, with all her baggage, would represent a significant disruption for News Corporation, and more widely.

Politicians of any stripe will be reluctant to get as close to her as they do to the other, locally grown News Corporation editors.

And that is a reminder that while the telephone hacking saga in the United Kingdom might be drawing to a close, some things will take time to fade from public memory.

There is the image of unscrupulous journalism, and how low people will go when the culture of their workplace and their social power permits and encourages it.

And there are the lessons about  the power of the media, and what politicians will do to court favour.  In the United Kingdom there is far more diversity of media ownership than in Australia.

We have to hope that our local politicians have learned some lessons about how to handle newsrooms gone bad.

Margaret Simons is an academic, freelance journalist and author.

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