Louise Mensch at the committee meeting. Photocredit: BBC
A cross-party committee of MPs set up to look into phone hacking at the now-defunct News of the World has decided that Rupert Murdoch, the boss of its parent company News Corporation, is not fit to run it. The committee heard evidence from Murdoch and from his son James, and also from policemen and lawyers for the alleged victims of hacking, reported the BBC. The committee said that Rupert Murdoch had exhibited “wilful blindness” at what was going on at News Corporation. The committee, however, was split between Conservatives, who refused to endorse the extra line about Murdoch in the report, claiming it was partisan, and Labour and Liberal Democrat members, who did endorse it. 5 out of the 11 MPs were against adding the line about Murdoch, including Tory MP Louise Mensch.
So far more than 6,000 possible victims of phone hacking have been uncovered, and News International has settled many civil cases. Several arrests have been made, though so far no charges have been brought. All three major party leaders have said that Ofcom must now make its own decision as to whether Murdoch is fit to rule. Commentators say that the committee – which has no powers of sanction – has not done itself any favours by splitting so obviously along party lines; that Tom Watson is pursuing his own agenda; and that the decision must be left to the Leveson Inquiry. All agree it overstepped its remit by adding the line.
“We conclude that, if at all relevant times Rupert Murdoch did not take steps to become fully informed about phone hacking, he turned a blind eye and exhibited wilful blindness to what was going on in his companies and publications,” said the committee, quoted in The Guardian.
What else did the report say?
It questioned three other former News International executives – Les Hinton, former editor Colin Myler, and former legal manager Tom Crone, claiming they’d given misleading evidence. It stated that News Corp had “huge failings of corporate governance”, and that its natural instinct was to cover up rather than to seek out wrongdoing. It said that former News of the World editor Rebekah Brooks should “accept responsibility” for the culture at NOTWS which led to hacking people such as the family of Milly Dowler, a young girl who had been murdered. It also criticised the police for not investigating fully.
Abuses of power?
It’s the committee making an “abuse of power”, stormed The Times’ editorial (which also pointed out that The Times is a Murdoch paper, which had reported on the scandal with “non-partisan detachment” – or at least tried to.) The committee, on the other hand, hasn’t been non-partisan at all. The line that Murdoch is not fit to run News Corp comes direct from Labour MP Tom Watson – who wanted it in the report since it showed his “steadfast beliefs.” But the committee didn’t even set out to see if Murdoch was fit. It’s ignored all his achievements – revolutionising Fleet Street, bringing satellite to a mass audience, making money from the Premiership. It’s set out to be anti-Murdoch from the start. It’s now up to Lord Justice Leveson to be impartial.
A troubling split.
It’s unfortunate, said The Independent’s editorial, that one line should disrupt the work of this committee. Even without it, the report still damns Rupert Murdoch, and it’s hard not to think that he isn’t fit to run News Corp. But the Indy agreed with the Times – it was hardly the committee’s job to say so – that falls upon shareholders; plus, there’s already a “regulatory probe” going on. What’s “troubling” about the split is that it runs along party lines – which only adds to “the sense of a political establishment struggling to take an independent line.”
Rupert Murdoch Worried He Might Have Damaged Heretofore Perfect Reputation onion.com/pHKfpE #InFocus
— The Onion (@TheOnion) May 1, 2012
Murdoch is at fault.
But Murdoch did turn a blind eye, many times, said Margaret Hefferman in The Guardian’s Comment is Free. He surrounds himself with people who confirm his world view – so News Corp “contributed to Murdoch’s blindness.” Murdoch lives in a “cocoon”, within a sense of safety that is “immensely dangerous.” He chose to be blind, and his shareholders “chose to ignore the danger of this.” Powerful people must choose “independent thinkers and critical allies” as their cronies. “When leaders choose not to do so, they embrace blindness and the moral darkness that goes with it.”
Can Murdoch even be trusted?
And Murdoch was pretty “hands-on”, said Helen Goodman MP on Liberal Conspiracy. He spoke to Rebkah Brooks “every other day.” That makes the charge of “wilful blindness” pretty “persuasive.” This all makes it hard to see how Murdoch can be “trusted” with BskyB.