Dial M for Murdoch by Tom Watson and Martin Hickman

Dial M for-Murdoch
Dial M for-Murdoch

By Tom Watson and Martin Hickman(Allen Lane)

The Wapping dispute ended in 1987 with Rupert Murdoch defeating the unions, and the revenge of the left would take nearly a quarter of a century.

It finally came last July, when news broke that the phone of the murdered schoolgirl Milly Dowler had been hacked. In the following weeks, the News of the World was closed down, the Metropolitan Police was decimated by resignations, the Commons collectively moved against Rupert Murdoch's takeover of BSkyB, and the Prime Minister David Cameron felt the heat for having hired the former NOTW editor, Andy Coulson, as his spin doctor.

Dial M for Murdoch: News Corporation and the Corruption of Britain is an account of this perfect storm written by The Independent's Martin Hickman and Tom Watson, the Labour MP who has been driving the story with his own passion to see Murdoch brought to justice. The nod to Alfred Hitchcock is conscious. News International was brought to its knees through slow, thriller-like detective work by journalists, notably Nick Davies of The Guardian, MPs such as Watson, lawyers including Mark Lewis and Charlotte Harris and a few keen-eyed policeman, who individually and then collectively uncovered the evidence of the dirty tricks that the News of the World had employed to become Britain's best-selling Sunday newspaper. But the more sinister story that Watson and Hickman investigate is that of the potential cover-up within News International, and how supine Cameron and some of his ministers were in the face of the charms of the Murdochs.

There are two problems with this book. The first is Tom Watson. There's no question that his dogged work with freedom of information requests, his questions in the House of Commons and during the Commons Culture, Media and Sport Select Committee's grilling of the Murdochs last summer helped drive this story to its denouement, and will undoubtedly change Britain for the better. Watson, 45, who would have come to political consciousness during the Wapping dispute, unashamedly bears the standard for the left's revenge. But Dial M for Murdoch loses its journalistic edge when the story turns to him personally. Watson is written in the third person, yet some details are so personal – how he gave up drinking when a Times journalist started a rumour he was alcoholic, friends worrying about his mental state, his four hour preparations for the summer's DCMS hearings and reporting their conclusions before the official report – it comes across as an authorial indulgence.

The second problem is that, although the phone-hacking scandal was a sidelined story until 2011, it is now a central part of the British news agenda, and every new detail is raked over. Watson and Hickman set out to write a history that has already been written multiple times. Dial M for Murdoch is a well-written and, at turns, devastating book about a very dark media and political scandal, the trouble is many of us have already seen the film.

The Independent on Sunday, 06 May 2012.