Australian Broadcasting Corporation
British lawyer Mark Lewis, who has represented several victims of the phone hacking scandal, is in the US preparing to launch three court cases against News Corporation.
EMMA ALBERICI, PRESENTER: British lawyer Mark Lewis has arrived in New York to take the phone hacking scandal to the core of Rupert Murdoch's News Corp business.
He's the lawyer whose 2007 case against the News of the World opened the floodgates to all the claims that followed. He was representing a hacked soccer official when he found an explosive email linking senior news executives to the conspiracy of silence around phone hacking. He managed to negotiate a 750,000 pound payout for his client.
But the whole affair took on an entirely different complexion last year when he launched an action last year on behalf of the parents of Milly Dowler, the murdered schoolgirl whose phone was hacked by Murdoch journalists when she disappeared. The uproar surrounding that case caused News International to shut the News of the World tabloid
Mark Lewis's involvement with this story has also become personal after he was himself put under surveillance by investigators working for the News of the World.
I spoke to Mark Lewis from London just before he caught his flight to the US.
Mark Lewis, thanks very much for being there.
MARK LEWIS, LAYWER: Hello, good morning.
EMMA ALBERICI: Now, you're taking the phone hacking scandal to the heart of News Corporation, the business in New York. What exactly are the actions you'll be launching in the US?
MARK LEWIS: Well, I think there are some cases where people, either American citizens have fallen across, being hacked themselves. Or people who were European who found themselves in New York or other parts of America who were hacked. I've been contacted by other lawyers who are facing the same situation where there are a number of people who would be classified as American victims.
EMMA ALBERICI: So American victims as well as UK victims?
MARK LEWIS: As well as UK victims. There are two groups: there are American victims who have possibly not even been to England, and UK victims who were in America and therefore are looking at the American legal system.
EMMA ALBERICI: How many cases are you expecting to launch in the US?
MARK LEWIS: I would think that imminently there will be three cases that will be launched, but others are awaiting to see and to follow.
EMMA ALBERICI: Are these celebrities, or are they regular individuals that, as you've said before, fall into the category of collateral damage, if you like?
MARK LEWIS: I think one is ... definitely collateral damage is someone who has effectively just phoned up somebody that the News of the World, the English newspaper, was interested in, and had their messages listened to.
EMMA ALBERICI: And the others are celebrities?
MARK LEWIS: The others are from the world of sport and all were collateral to effectively Hollywood.
EMMA ALBERICI: Can you tell us who exactly you are representing?
MARK LEWIS: I can't say the names of the individuals at this stage.
EMMA ALBERICI: Now, News Corporation has tried to insulate the US operation from the phone hacking scandal and from, I guess, the contagion of the UK cases so far. How confident are you that US laws have been broke?
MARK LEWIS: I think there are circumstances where US law has fallen into play. If people are hacked in America, then American law comes into play and it looks at that. And it also looks at the greater control of the holding company, News Corp, rather than the English subsidiaries, News International and News Group Newspapers. So we are going to see this as (inaudible) thing, and it's following up the chain of command as well in terms of the discovery of documents.
EMMA ALBERICI: So you mean that some of the evidence you're discovering points the finger at senior executives within News Corporation, perhaps the Murdochs themselves?
MARK LEWIS: Well, I think we're going to move into that territory where we're going to find out ... one of the things that can be done is calling people to give deposition evidence in the States to explain what they knew or what they sanctioned. The companies, although they are separate entities within the UK and America and also Australia, all report to America and therefore the American organisation might well hold some keys to what was going on.
EMMA ALBERICI: Now, were these people's telephones being intercepted by British newspapers or have you found evidence of illegal activity being carried out on behalf of News Corp's interests in the United States, be that Fox News or the New York Post, the Wall Street Journal?
MARK LEWIS: Well, the initial going to the States was in respect of activities by the English newspapers and News of the World. But since that's happened, I've been contacted by people in the States who have faced similar, not identical problems, but similar problems. They've raised issues with News Corporation programs, News Corporation newspapers and found themselves at the wrong side of investigations and rather menacing practices, they would say.
EMMA ALBERICI: Now, News Corp recently hired former US Justice Department lawyers and a former White House counsel. So that would suggest that the company has been anticipating just this kind of action.
MARK LEWIS: Well, I think they are throwing all the resources that they can do in that. It's a mirror of what's happening in England. They are forming a strong legal defence and pulling in as many experts as they can, and partly it seems to create conflicts almost, that there are so many people who are acting or representing individuals or the company.
EMMA ALBERICI: Are all the cases you're pursuing in the US related to phone hacking?
MARK LEWIS: Well, they're not all phone hacking. I've been asked to investigate the role of NDS in relation to the Israeli company, in relation to some commercial activities that took place here in England. That will take me over to America to coordinate with the person, the American lawyer, to find out what was going on, and to work with them. But there were other things that are coming up that are not just in the mainstream in terms of publication, but in terms of the control of News Corp against people for commercial purposes. Not everything they did was published, or not everything appeared on television. It was perhaps used for other commercial advantage.
EMMA ALBERICI: What sort of commercial advantage?
MARK LEWIS: What we see is, for example, deals in relation to pay per view television et cetera, as in this country.
EMMA ALBERICI: Now these are of course, all allegations at this stage. But here in Australia, News Limited has mounted a fairly vigorous defence against similar commercial-style allegations about it potentially trying to undermine its competitors in pay television, the same sorts of allegations that have been levelled against News International in the UK.
MARK LEWIS: Well, I'm sure that's the case, and they are only allegations at this stage. But one has to look at the allegations and perhaps best to look at the News of the World's initial denial because News Corporation would have said in 2006 these were just allegations in respect to phone hacking. Obviously these things have to be investigated fully and it's when you know the information you can give the proper answer. Anything beforehand is not a proper answer.
EMMA ALBERICI: Well do you have or have you seen any evidence that would lead you to believe there is a strong legal case in relation to the NDS allegations?
MARK LEWIS: Well, the suggestion from my client is that there is some evidence and what's he's shown me suggests that there is evidence. But that's going to be something that we investigate further in order to pursue further. Look, these ... look, we have to investigate properly to find out what was going on, and a knee jerk reaction from either side to say that this definitely didn't happen is unhelpful.
EMMA ALBERICI: So what sort of claims are you pursuing in this regard because it's a terribly complex situation, the one with regards to NDS?
MARK LEWIS: Well, what's being said by my client is that NDS was effectively being operated through News Corp which owned it, at that time and was pursuing what could be described as dirty tricks. Now these are allegations at the moment that have to be investigated. They're allegations in terms of obtaining information, obtaining information from computers and phone, et cetera, that could be used to obtain commercial advantage.
EMMA ALBERICI: This is in pay television in the United States or in the UK?
MARK LEWIS: It's pay television in the UK but the technology side of it, in terms of a joint venture almost between my client and News Corp.
EMMA ALBERICI: And where is your client based?
MARK LEWIS: I'm not able to say...
EMMA ALBERICI: No, but this is a US client?
MARK LEWIS: It's not a US client.
EMMA ALBERICI: But it relates to an action that would be launched in the US?
MARK LEWIS: The information about that is parallel both within the US and in England, and there is therefore a cooperation between US attorneys and myself in order to find out the information and then decide whether or not we want to pursue a claim in America or pursue a claim in the UK.
EMMA ALBERICI: And would there be implications in that claim for the allegations that have been levelled here in Australia against News Limited?
MARK LEWIS: Well, I think the allegations in respect of News Limited are uncanningly similar to allegations that a separate client has made. The practice appears to be very, very similar in the UK as well as in Australia.
EMMA ALBERICI: What is the practice you're referring to?
MARK LEWIS: The practice in Australia appears to have been using information in order to provide free access to competitors' satellite television, whereas here it was also to take, what my instructions are, is to take commercial advantage in order to make my client's product effectively worthless and for him to lose out in legal proceedings.
EMMA ALBERICI: So News Limited here in Australia, as I mentioned before, they've dismissed these allegations entirely. They say the news reports around this issue have been littered with falsehoods, fanciful conclusions and seriously misconstrued the evidence characterised in those stories. In fact, they say the emails that have been alleged as evidence have been taken out of context, and all in all this relates to activity that in some cases is more than a decade old. What can be done with the information you've seen from a legal perspective? Is there a case?
MARK LEWIS: Well, I think there are two things. The fact that allegations might be 10 years old and many of the phone hacking allegations are over 10 years old, but they happened. And if things happened a long time ago but were covered up, covered up in the sense of not discovered, it doesn't matter that they're old allegations. In terms of finding out whether something is fanciful or not is only when it's investigated properly that you can say with some certainty whether or not those allegations are fanciful or whether they have some meaning.
EMMA ALBERICI: So do you intend to launch this action in the near term, or is this still at a kind of fact finding stage?
MARK LEWIS: Well, it's fact finding, but it's getting to the later stages of fact finding in order to take some action.
EMMA ALBERICI: There is a certain irony to your visit to the US, given that James Murdoch has now resigned as chairman of the broadcaster BSkyB there in the UK and he has moved to New York ostensibly one might suggest to remove himself from the phone hacking scandal in the UK. Do any of your actions in the US courts implicate Mr Murdoch specifically or any other member of the Murdoch family?
MARK LEWIS: There are no direct allegations as to James Murdoch or the members of the Murdoch family. Although one has to say that the allegations against James Murdoch in the position and in relation to phone hacking, and the explanation that he has given, you know, he said that he didn't know about the Gordon Taylor settlement, although he signed the cheque to do that.
And when he was (inaudible) it turned out that he got an email explaining that, but he said it was on his Blackberry and he read, he didn't scroll down because the email came on a Saturday. Obviously, those things will be investigated and perhaps the key might be in America, in News Corporation's documents.
EMMA ALBERICI: Have people contacted you in relation to private detectives being employed in the United States?
MARK LEWIS: Yeah I mean, within the last 24 hours I've been contacted by people who say that they've had reason to fall out with News Corporation, companies who have had disputes with Fox and then found out that they were subject to having private detectives following them, making surveillance of them. Of course, those are allegations at this stage and I haven't been able to investigate them properly.
EMMA ALBERICI: It sounds like you will be spending quite some time in the United States over the coming months?
MARK LEWIS: Maybe.
EMMA ALBERICI: Thank you very much for joining us tonight.
MARK LEWIS: Thank you.
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there is a british studio, that has started work on a movie based on the experiences of a former news corp editor who left the company years ago, because of excessive medeling by Rupert Murdoch over editorial content.
Also, a new book by one the MP's who has been part of the news corp investigation team. called " Dial M for Murdoch " is being shopped around Hollywood and not getting much traction, because of Murdoch's excessive power over the studios. after all he owns a couple of them himself.
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