Former British PM’s Media Director to Contest Charges

Posted May 31st, 2012 at 12:05 pm (UTC-5)
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The lawyer for British Prime Minister David Cameron's former media chief says his client will “vigorously contest” the perjury charges against him.

Andy Coulson, also a former editor of Rupert Murdoch's News of the World, was arrested Wednesday and charged with perjury by Scottish police.

He was picked up at his home in London and taken to the Scottish city of Glasgow for questioning related to testimony he had given at the Glasgow High Court in 2010. After the questioning, he was charged with lying in court during that testimony.

Coulson testified in the case of former Scottish lawmaker Tommy Sheridan, who was later convicted of perjury. Sheridan won a 2006 defamation suit against News of the World, which claimed that the lawmaker visited disreputable night clubs, participated in orgies and used drugs. But police arrested Sheridan a year later and charged him with perjury in connection with the hearing.

Coulson, editor of News of the World from 2003 to 2007, was called to testify at Sheridan's trial. He asserted that the tabloid did not engage in illegal telephone-hacking.

After the tabloid's closure, Prime Minister Cameron made Coulson his media chief. Coulson left the position last year amid continued coverage of the phone-hacking scandal. In July 2011, police arrested Coulson on suspicion of corruption and phone-hacking.

Murdoch shut down the News of the World last July after the scandal erupted, and his media empire has agreed to large payouts to 37 phone-hacking victims, including celebrities, politicians and crime victims.

The 81-year-old mogul also owns British newspapers The Times, The Sunday Times and The Sun. Senior employees at The Sun have been arrested as part of an inquiry into allegations the newspaper obtained information by bribing police and other officials.

About 40 people have been arrested due to probes into the illegal news-gathering and bribery scandals.

Al Tompkins, who teaches journalism ethics at the U.S.-based Poynter Institute, told VOA he thinks the scandal tarnishes the journalism business.

“Well, we don't know the size of this yet, we're still discovering how big it is. But it's bad. There's no question it's terrible for journalism and it's terrible for the public's confidence in journalism, even though the publications so far known to be involved were known to be sort of scandal-driven newspapers, what we would call tabloids in the states. The fact of the matter is that it just seems to get worse, it's deplorable. It has nothing to do with what our accepted journalism practice is. I can't imagine any right-minded person on the planet who sees this as an acceptable practice. It has nothing to do with accepted journalism anywhere.”

Tompkins also said those under investigation in the case could have been motivated by the fact that news about celebrities and other big names piques the interest of readers.

“Over the centuries, there have been plenty of people who for as long as anybody's been writing stories have been enhancing stories with scandal and celebrity. Scandal and celebrity do attract eyeballs, but that doesn't have anything to do with what we would think of as professional journalism. It has a lot more to do with fiction.”

The Poynter Institute Tompkins teaches at aims to uphold proper journalism practices.