Rebekah Brooks appears in court on phone-hacking charges

Rebekah Brooks appears in court on phone-hacking charges
LONDON -- Rebekah Brooks, former News International executive and editor of the now defunct Murdoch-owned tabloid News of the World, appeared in court Monday to hear three charges against her relating to illegal phone hacking.

Brooks, 44, was charged earlier this year along with a private investigator and seven other executives, editors and journalists of the paper. The group was charged with conspiring to hack into the phones of 600 potential victims.

In Brooks’ case she faces two more specific charges of hacking into the phones of murdered teenager Milly Dowler who died in March 2003, and of Andy Gilchrist, a former militant leader of the Fire Brigades Union who lead a controversial firefighters’ strike in 2002. She has denied the charges.

Brooks, wearing a short-skirted dark suit, made no comment as she walked to and from Westminster Magistrates court in central London. Throughout the brief hearing she listened in silence as presiding judge Howard Riddle Brooks read out the three charges.  

Her seven former colleagues who appeared in court last month, included Andy Coulson, former chief press officer to Prime Minister David Cameron, and Glenn Mulcaire, a private investigator.

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British police widen phone-hacking inquiry with new arrests

LONDON -- British police have arrested two more suspects linked to phone hacking, revealing a widening of the investigation into tactics used by British media outlets. The new suspects are reported to be journalists from newspapers not owned by News Corp., which previously has been the focus of the investigation. 

Scotland Yard, London’s central police station, said in a brief statement Wednesday that two men were arrested by officers working with Operation Elveden, the inquiry into allegations of inappropriate payments to police and public officials regarding phone-tapping.

The men were arrested on “suspicion of conspiracy to corrupt and of conspiracy to cause misconduct in a public office,” the statement said.

While the police did not reveal their identities, the two were quickly named in the press as Justin Penrose, a 37-year-old journalist from the Daily Mirror tabloid, and Tom Savage, 34, deputy news editor from the Daily Star Sunday, another popular tabloid.

The Trinity Mirror company confirmed in a statement that it had been informed by police that Penrose “was arrested this morning on suspicion of alleged payments to public officials.  We are cooperating fully with the police.”

Last week, another person arrested in the Operation Elveden investigation was named in the media as former Mirror reporter Greig Box Turnbull.

Neither the Daily Mirror nor the Daily Star belongs to News International, the British arm of News Corp., which owned the now-defunct News of the World, the Sunday tabloid first implicated in phone-hacking offenses last July  after revelations that journalists had commissioned wiretaps into the mobile phone of murdered teenager Milly Dowler.

In the ensuing public outcry, News Corp. boss Rupert Murdoch closed the paper and promised cooperation with authorities in their inquiries and compensation for several thousand victims, including celebrities and other newsworthy figures.

The scandal triggered parliamentary and civil inquiries into media ethics and practices, as well as  three ongoing investigations in which police have arrested more than 40 people connected to phone hacking, including former News International executives and editors, journalists and public officials.    

Murdoch split his company last month and separated its scandal-damaged publishing business from the more profitable entertainment side.

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-- Janet Stobart


Women on Cannes red carpet -- but not in directors' chairs

Cannes

This post has been corrected. See the note below for details.

Jane Fonda and Alec Baldwin were there on the red carpet. Marilyn Monroe made an appearance -- if only on a poster. There was even an improbable camel.

But one thing was glaringly missing at the Cannes Film Festival as it kicked off Wednesday in a glamorous blitz of tuxedos, ballgowns and the flashing of cameras.

Not a single film competing at the rarefied French festival was directed by a woman -- a fact that French feminists lamented in an open letter published in Le Monde and the Guardian.

“Never let the girls think they can one day have the presumptuousness to make movies or to climb those famous Festival Palace steps, except when attached to the arm of a Prince Charming,” the letter said, sarcastically lauding their “exemplary selection” that relegated women to the festival posters.

Glamorous starlets are a staple of Cannes, as the Marilyn Monroe poster hints, but only one female director has ever won the top prize: Jane Campion, who snagged the Palme d'Or award in 1993 for "The Piano." The all-male lineup is a shift from last year, when four female directors were included.

"Women, mind your spools of thread! And men, as the Lumière Brothers did before you, mind your film reels! And let the Cannes film festival competition forever be a man's world!" the sardonic letter from the feminist group La Barbe concluded.

Festival artistic director Thierry Fremaux told the Associated Press that although men are dominating the event, “it's not the fault of Cannes.” A San Diego State University study found that women directed only 5% of the 250 highest-grossing domestic films last year, a drop from two years ago.

“It wouldn't be very nice to select a film because the film is not good but it is directed by a woman,” Fremaux argued to the Associated Press.

In response to his argument, a lengthy list of female writers, directors and producers from around the globe created an online petition calling for Cannes to "commit to transparency and equality in the selection process of these films" and to open up a dialogue about women in cinema.

"Mr. Fremaux is correct in stating that women's rights must be addressed year round," the petition says.

[For the record, 10:38 p.m., May 16: A previous version of this post said Jane Campion won the Palme d'Or for "The Piano Lesson." The title is "The Piano."]

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-- Emily Alpert in Los Angeles

Photo: Actors Jared Gilman, Kara Hayward, director Wes Anderson, actors Tilda Swinton, Bruce Willis and Edward Norton arrive for the opening ceremony and screening of "Moonrise Kingdom" at Cannes in southern France on Wednesday. Credit: Lionel Cironneau / Associated Press


U.S. apologizes to Bollywood star Shahrukh Khan, again

NEW DELHI -- The U.S. apologized Friday after one of India’s biggest movie stars, Shahrukh Khan, was detained at customs -- again -- on his way to give a speech at Yale.

The Bollywood sensation was reportedly held for nearly two hours at the airport in White Plains, N.Y., after arriving on a private plane from India on Thursday. Other passengers on the flight were cleared without a problem. Khan was allowed to proceed after the Indian Consulate intervened.

Celebrity culture is huge in India, and Khan is among India’s biggest names. In 2009, he was detained at the airport in Newark, N.J.,  eliciting a similar Indian outcry and U.S. apology. After the latest intervention, New Delhi told India’s ambassador in Washington to take up the matter with the “highest U.S. authorities,” even as U.S . immigration authorities reportedly expressed in a letter their "profound" apologies.

After his release, Khan voiced his displeasure during the Yale fellowship presentation. "Whenever I start feeling too arrogant about myself, I always take a trip to America,” he said. “The immigration guys kicked the star out of stardom."         

The incident set off a torrent of messages on Twitter. "Honestly what's the big deal??” wrote Omar Abdullah, the top elected official in India’s northern state of Jammu and Kashmir. “This airport detention thing happens all the time & to all sorts of people. Get over it." 

Others, such as Twitter user Marie Gold, saw it differently: “‏ Profiling Muslims in the US has become a norm and looks like there is no going back,” she wrote.

Cases of officials and former officials being patted down, strip-searched or forced to take off their shoes and belts at security have made big headlines in India, where VIPs generally can avoid security checks.

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-- Mark Magnier

Video: Shahrukh Khan speaks at Yale University after being detained by U.S. immigration officials. Credit: NDTV


Lawyer says British phone hacking scandal could spread to U.S.

James Murdoch of British Sky Broadcasting

LONDON -- The British phone hacking scandal that resulted in scores of arrests and the July closing of the popular tabloid News of the World could spread to the United States, a media lawyer who represents several victims said Thursday.

Attorney Mark Lewis said inquiries by British police into illegal phone interceptions by the tabloid were widening and he would be seeking documentation in the U.S. on behalf of three of his clients, who he said were victims of illegal phone interceptions.

The tabloid is owned by News International, the British branch of Rupert Murdoch's News Corp.

“The cases I am pursuing were by the News of the World against people who were in the U.S. at the time they were hacked or were U.S. citizens,” he said in a email to The Times sent while he was en route to the airport. 

“The scandal is not just confined to the United Kingdom or U.K. companies,” he told the BBC, “but this goes to the heartland of News Corp. and we will be looking at the involvement of the parent company and in terms of claims there and that is something that I think will be taken more seriously by investors and shareholders in News Corp.”

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Madonna turns down gay activist calls to boycott Russian city

Madonna

Madonna turned down calls to boycott St. Petersburg after the Russian city passed a law punishing people for promoting homosexuality to youth, saying she would instead use her August concert there to speak out.

“I will come to St. Petersburg to speak up for the gay community, to support the gay community and to give strength and inspiration to anyone who is or feels oppressed,” the pop star said on her Facebook page Wednesday. "I don't run away from adversity."

Russian journalist Masha Gessen had urged Madonna to steer clear of the Russian city in a blog post for the International Herald Tribune. Gay activists in Russia were unswayed by the pop star,  telling Agence France-Presse that they would protest "the hypocrisy of pop stars" at her show.

Russian media reported that the new law imposes fines of up to roughly $170 for individuals, $1,700 for officials and $17,000 for legal entities for advocating homosexuality to minors. It makes it illegal to foster "the false perception that traditional and nontraditional relationships are socially equal" among youth.

"The legislation makes it illegal to argue against it: A lawmaker who dared say that same-sex relationships are not inferior to heterosexual ones could be fined," Gessen wrote Monday.

Human Rights Watch criticized the law as so vague that it "could lead to a ban on displaying a rainbow flag or wearing a T-shirt with a gay-friendly logo or even on holding LGBT-themed rallies in the city."

Vitaly Milonov, who wrote the bill, said it would not be used against the media or to stop gay pride parades, and was meant to "outline certain additional rules of behavior toward minors" It would only affect "children's environments," Milonov told the St. Petersburg Times

Russia decriminalized homosexuality nearly two decades ago, but bias against gays has continued,  including routinely banning or breaking up gay protests, Human Rights Watch said.

Madonna has run into problems in Russia before -- though not from the gay community, which she has championed worldwide. Russian Orthodox activists protested her first show there six years ago, upset with her singing “Live to Tell” while wearing a crown of thorns and dangling from a cross, Bloomberg reports.

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-- Emily Alpert in Los Angeles

Photo: Madonna. Credit: Chris Jackson / Getty Images


Israel seeks to return refugees to South Sudan

South Sudanese refugees

REPORTING FROM JERUSALEM--Israel doesn't need celebrity activists to call its attention to troubles in Africa. After years of being on the receiving end of a steady stream of work migrants and asylum seekers, the country knows this first-hand.

Civil war, tribal troubles and economic hardship in African countries have sent tens of thousands on the dangerous journey across the desert to try their luck in Israel, which they have entered through the country's sprawling, largely open border with Egypt.

In 2006, there were 300 asylum seekers from Sudan in Israel. By April 2011, Israel was the reluctant home to 35,000 asylum seekers, mostly from Sudan and Eritrea, as well as a few thousand from the Ivory Coast and Congo. People hailing from Sudan and Eritrea received group protection from Israeli authorities, a status requiring renewal every few months.

A few years ago, Israel's Interior Ministry took over the Refugee Status Determination process (RSD) from the United Nation's refugee agency, UNHCR. Despite the review of thousands of cases, relatively few have been granted refugee status by Israel.

The asylum seekers are part of a larger issue for Israel. Between caretakers, nursing aides, construction workers and farm hands outstaying their work permits by years and settling in Israel, and the influx of African migrants infiltrating its southern border, the country has an uninvited foreign community estimated in the hundreds of thousands.

Israel's immigration policy is tangled up with religion, demographics and politics and years of Band-Aid solutions, resulting in a situation many in Israel consider a threat to security, society and economy.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's government is expediting work on a fence along its border with Egypt, taking legal measures against employers and others assisting illegal immigrants and is constructing a large holding facility for infiltrators who enter illegally but cannot be sent back to strife-torn countries. Most Israelis agree on the need for a secure border, with the consensus growing since last year's revolution in Egypt. Other measures are widely criticized by rights organizations.

Israel was swift to recognize the new state of South Sudan in July 2011. Following the formation of the state, Israel ended collective protection for those from South Sudan and wants asylum seekers to leave the country. The window for voluntary departure and a $1,300 incentive closes March 31; those still in Israel would be deported after that.  

Another group of about 2,000 people from the Ivory Coast may also face deportation after the sweeping protection ended last month.

Currently, the Israeli foreign ministry maintains South Sudan is safe to return to and, according to rights organizations, Israel intends to deport 700 people, among them 400 children. The United Nations has expressed grave concern over the current situation in South Sudan, still plagued by violence and hunger. 

Orit Marom, of Aid Organization for Refugees and Asylum Seekers in Israel, warn South Sudan is far from safe. A recent report by the research and information department of Israel's parliament also concluded South Sudan remains acutely dangerous and in fierce humanitarian crisis "yet the government of Israel thinks this is the right time to send them back," Marom told Israel radio.

According to Marom, most arrived in Israel between 2006 and 2008 and formed a community with families. Many had been on the road for years, some leaving as long as 20 years ago. The younger ones have never been in Sudan, she says.

Rights organizations are lobbying for a stay, high schoolers are rallying to keep their classmates, citizens have demonstrated in Tel Aviv and 400 prominent public figures have signed a letter to Netanyahu asking how a state in which most residents were once refugees could turn its back on refugees.

At least on one occasion, Israel returned a consenting group of asylum seekers to Sudan, with the discreet aid of a third party. This was before South Sudan gained independence. 

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Photo: South Sudanese refugees protest Israel's deportation policy in Tel Aviv on March 17. Credit: Oliver Weiken / EPA


Does star power do any good? A Q & A on 'celebrity diplomacy'

Clooneyarrest

Blockbusters and a winning smile made George Clooney famous, yet the actor has become an unexpected force in the debate over protecting human rights in the Sudan, testifying before Congress, meeting with the president and making headlines for getting arrested outside the Sudanese Embassy.

Angelina Jolie lobbies for refugees. Sean Penn weighs in on the Falkland Islands. When a viral video sought to spread awareness of the crimes of Ugandan militia leader Joseph Kony, it used the power of social media to prod "culture makers" such as Lady Gaga and Rihanna to spread the word.

But skeptics question whether star power actually does any good. Celebrities are often criticized for co-opting struggles from across the world and making themselves the stars instead, selling simplified stories with familiar heroes to draw Westerners to causes they might otherwise overlook.

The Times talked to University of Waterloo political science professor Andrew F. Cooper, who dissected in his book "Celebrity Diplomacy" what happens when stars and international issues collide.

Is it a good thing when a celebrity throws his or her star power behind a foreign problem?

Depends on who it is. There’s a real spectrum of celebrity activity. George Clooney really stands out, along with Angelina Jolie and Bono -- you can disagree with some of the cases that they pick up, but they’re very conscientious, they’re advised well, they’re in it for the longer run. Then there’s all this scattered stuff that’s more messy and problematic and amateur. You can’t put them all in the same bag.

How has this changed over time?

They’ve become more sort of freelance. Thirty years ago they were all sort of locked into the system, usually as ambassadors for a specialized agency in the U.N. They weren’t particularly controversial. Audrey Hepburn comes to mind. [Hepburn served as a goodwill ambassador for UNICEF until her death.] 

What do you think is driving that change?

I think they don’t want to be confined. They want to be flexible in the issues they see as important. Now most people don’t mind being controversial. They don’t want to do these things in retirement after they’ve been big stars. They want to do it now. It makes it a bit more interesting and volatile as well.

Does star power skew which kinds of issues get attention and which don’t?

Very much so. You might some see things in the real hot spots. But there’s not too many celebrities that really think they can make a difference on Israel-Palestine or North Korea-South Korea. Most of them pick an issue area that doesn’t get as much attention. Probably in some ways they’re the safer issues. For instance, it’s very hard for people to criticize celebrities getting involved on health issues. Sharon Stone got involved with mosquito nets and she tried to pass a hat around at Davos and was criticized for trying to force these rich people to donate right on the spot. But for the most part you don’t get the criticism you’d get if those people were trying to deal with big geopolitical issues.

Other people worry that celebrities place so much attention on access, on playing that inside game, that they may not be as critical as they should be because they feel they can work better from the inside. There are some celebrities, though, who you can almost call anti-diplomats, who don’t think they need or want to have access to leaders. Sean Penn is a good example.

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Murdoch tabloids paid police for celebrity information, official says

Payments to police and public officials in return for information on celebrities, such as singer Charlotte Church, were common practice at News Corp.-owned tabloids, a British police official said
REPORTING FROM LONDON -– Payments to police and public officials in return for information on celebrities and names in the public domain for stories dealing with little more than "salacious gossip" were common practice at News Corp.-owned tabloids, a British police official said Monday.

Deputy Chief Commissioner Sue Akers made the statement in an ongoing civil inquiry into media practices and ethics triggered by the phone-hacking scandal that broke last summer when it was revealed that the News of the World, owned by News Corp., had hacked into the cellphone of teenage rape and murder victim Milly Dowler.

News Corp. chief Rupert Murdoch closed the popular tabloid following a public outcry.

Set in motion by Prime Minister David Cameron, the inquiry began a new phase Monday, looking at relations between the media and public officials. So far, it has revealed a widespread culture of phone hacking and surveillance of newsworthy people by journalists that had been all but ignored by police over the last decade.

Monday's evidence revealed long-standing illegal payments to police and public officials by journalists working for two of Murdoch's tabloids, the News of the World and the Sun.

Speaking after a recent slew of arrests of public officials and Sun journalists in connection with suspected bribery, Akers, head of one of several police inquiries going through about 300 million confiscated emails for information on illegal media practices and relations between journalists and officials, said, "The current assessment is that there was a network of corrupted officials. ... There appears to have been a culture at the Sun of illegal payments and systems created to facilitate those payments."

One journalist had drawn a total of over 150,000 pounds -– about $220,000 -- over recent years for payments to public officials, she said.

The revelations come a day after Murdoch launched his new Sun on Sunday tabloid. In a statement after Akers presented her evidence, he vowed "to get to the bottom of prior wrongdoings. ... The practices Sue Akers described ... are ones of the past, and no longer exist at The Sun. We have already emerged a stronger company."

News International, the British arm of News Corp., has agreed to pay millions of dollars in damages after successful legal claims by phone-hacking victims, including actors Jude Law and Sienna Miller. At the same time, Murdoch and son James, chairman of News International, have denied knowledge that phone hacking was conducted by more than one or two rogue journalists at the News of the World.

On Monday, Charlotte Church, the singer whose audiences have included Pope John Paul II and former President  Clinton, was awarded over $950,000 in damages from News Corp. in connection with illegal phone taps and surveillance by tabloid journalists.

High Court Judge Geoffrey Vos told a hearing that Church and her parents had been pursued by reporters and photographers since 2002, when the singer was 16. Illegal phone-hacking and constant surveillance resulted in 33 articles on the singer and her family in the now-defunct News of the World, he said.

In an angry statement after the hearing, the 26-year-old singer, who had been present in court, told a crowd of reporters that she was "sickened and disgusted" by what she had learned about the practices of those "who pursued me and my family just to make money for a multinational news corporation." 

Her parents had "been harassed," she said, and her mother "bullied into revealing her own private medical condition."

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-- Janet Stobart

Photo: British singer Charlotte Church reads a statement to the media outside a central London court on Monday following the settlement of her legal action against the publishers of now-defunct newspaper News of the World over allegations of phone hacking.  Credit: Carl Court / AFP/Getty Images


Rupert Murdoch flies to London to confront angry tabloid staff

REPORTING FROM LONDON -- News Corp. boss Rupert Murdoch flew into London on Thursday night to confront a hostile news staff on his favorite tabloid The Sun on Friday morning.

Police inquiries into illegal phone hacking led to the arrest of 10 of the Sun’s staff in recent weeks on allegations of corruption and bribing police officials, and reports Friday spoke of a crisis meeting and civil war in the newsroom which could define the future of the popular tabloid.

All 10 were released on bail but their arrests have generated ill feelings toward Murdoch and his News Corp. Management and Standards committee set up by him to collaborate with police and which provided names and information prompting the arrests and house searches of former and present staff.

On Saturday, five journalists, including senior editors and journalists, were questioned by police and their houses were searched.  Police have also conducted searches of the east London offices of News International, the British arm of the Murdoch News Corp. media empire and publisher of The Sun and sister papers The Times and Sunday Times.

They were the latest arrests in police investigations after Murdoch's decision in July to close his other popular tabloid, the News of the World, after revelations that the paper had illegally tapped the phone of teenage murder victim Milly Dowler.

Since then, civil and police inquiries have mushroomed, triggering around 30 arrests of public officials, media executives and journalists, the resignation of senior police officers and a radical review of ethics and practices by British journalists searching for scoops on celebrities and crime victims.

Furious at what they see as betrayal by their owner, who was responsible for handing over millions of emails and other documentation revealing journalists’ confidential sources, Sun staff hit back via Associate Editor Trevor Kavanagh bitterly talking a few days ago of a "witch hunt" and claiming journalists doing their job were “treated like members of an organized crime gang.”

As Murdoch met with staff at the headquarters of News International, speculation was rife as to the Sun’s future. Murdoch faces fierce questioning within News Corp. as to how much he and his son James, News International's chief executive, really knew about the widespread use of phone hacking and other unethical practices by their British staff despite their assertions that they were aware of only one rogue reporter. 

Despite his well-reported deep-seated love for his British tabloid, many see him ready to sacrifice the Sun in the interests of his survival at News Corp.

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-- Janet Stobart


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