NotW: Murdoch withdraws BSkyB bid
Crikey media wrap: The News of the World phone hacking scandal didn't just bring down a paper, it also destroyed Rupert Murdoch's News Corporation's £8bn bid to buy BSkyB.
Jul 14, 2011
Crikey media wrap: The News of the World phone hacking scandal didn't just bring down a paper, it also destroyed Rupert Murdoch's News Corporation's £8bn bid to buy BSkyB.
The News of the World phone hacking scandal didn’t just bring down a paper, it also destroyed Rupert Murdoch’s News Corporation’s £8 billion bid to buy BSkyB.
After a week of public and political outrage over News International’s dubious methods of information gathering, Murdoch officially withdraw his bid yesterday to purchase the pay-TV broadcaster.
News Corp deputy chairman Chase Carey admitted the purchase had become “too difficult to progress in this climate.” An article at The Guardian declares it “the biggest single reverse” of Murdoch’s career.
Former PM Gordon Brown, a man who was continually targeted for over a decade by News International papers and had his legal, financial and medical records allegedly accessed, addressed the House of Commons yesterday to condemn News International and the power of Rupert Murdoch.
It was a rare speech for Brown — only his second since losing the top job — but a feisty one. “In their behaviour towards those without a voice of their own, News International descended from the gutter to the sewer,” said Brown. “The tragedy is that they let the rats out of the sewer.”
Brown revealed that he had pushed for a review of the phone hacking scandal back in 2009 but had been warned off any attempts to hold Murdoch to account: “It was opposed by the police. It was opposed by the Home Office. It was opposed by the Civil Service. It was not supported by the select committee.”
The Telegraph‘s political correspondent James Kirkup calls Brown’s speech to parliament a “righteous fury” against the Murdoch empire.
Disgraced former newspaper magnate Conrad Black writes a fascinating profile of Rupert Murdoch in the Financial Times:
“He is, as Clarendon said of Cromwell and the British historian David Chandler updated to Napoleon ‘a great bad man’. It is as wrong to dispute his greatness as his badness.
“Murdoch-bashing has, until very recently, generally been a disreputable activity, chiefly engaged in by the envious, the far-left, and the commercially uncompetitive, all almost incapable of disinterested comment — but not always. It is, on this subject at last, a time for truth.”
Will Murdoch sell his UK papers? The Wall Street Journal reports Murdoch is scouting out possibly buyers:
“One idea contemplated in recent weeks is an option Mr. Murdoch has long shot down: selling his other British newspapers. News Corp. has informally explored whether there were any potential buyers for its U.K. newspaper unit, News International, according to people familiar with the matter.”
Over in the US, media writers are speculating over whether the dodgy UK practises appeared in Murdoch’s US papers. Former New York Post journalist Ian Spiegelman, admitted to The Daily Beast that “there was a kind of thuggishness” in the News Corp-owned newsroom culture that made him feel “pretty uncomfortable”.
Back in 2007 Spiegelman spoke of questionable practises at the New York Post like happily accepting freebies, that stories that could interfere with other Murdoch business interests or friends of Murdoch were spiked and that gossip writers were rewarded by those they covered favourably with cash and parties worth thousands.
When questioned over whether Spiegelman believes practises similar to the phone hacking scandal appeared in News Corp’s US papers, Spiegelman spoke of how many News Corp executives are not residents of the countries in which they work and all loyalty lies with News Corp:
“News Corp VPs are nationless. It doesn’t matter where you put them — they are plugged into their own, floating nation…namely News Corp. You don’t always see them, but they are always hovering between the editor-in-chief and Rupert, and their loyalties remain not with any country or system of laws. Imagine the kind of pressure such a misty, loyalty-free menace could put on a reporter who actually lives where he lives and whose life is there. You want to know if this London poison is likely to have spread to New York? Yeah. But don’t blame London.”
Locally, News Limited chief John Hartigan ordered a review of editorial spending from the last three years, in order to demonstrate that the Australian arm of the Murdoch papers remains clear of the cancer infecting its UK brethren. The review will look for payments for private investigators or parties that aren’t “legitimate services”.
In an email to News Limited staff, Hartigan referred to Crikey stories about the News Ltd code of conduct, as he slammed those who drew any link between the Australian and UK News papers.
“Some media outlets, certain commentators and some politicians have attempted to connect the behaviour in the UK with News Limited’s conduct in Australia. This is offensive and wrong …
“Policies, codes and guidelines are important. But what matters is conduct.
“I have absolutely no reason to suspect any wrongdoing at News Limited. However, I believe it is essential that we can all have absolute confidence that ethical work practices are a fundamental requirement of employment at News Limited.”
The global implications of the News International phone hacking scandal will play out for months to come.
Wednesday July 13
The spotlight in the News of the World phone-hacking scandal is shining brightly on Rupert Murdoch, who along with son James and News International executive and former NotW editor Rebekah Brooks, has been called to face questioning by the UK parliament over the dubious practices of his News International papers.
A parliamentary committee called the three to testify, although they are not being forced to appear. A spokesperson for the committee said the News execs would “possibly” appear next Tuesday, but a time and date were not yet formally set. Labour Party MP Tom Watson questioned whether they would show up, saying “I suspect that some of them might be too cowardly to turn up, but that is up to them to decide.”
Murdoch’s hope to purchase all of BSkyB looks even more shaky. Next Wednesday the UK House of Commons will vote on whether “it is in the public interest for Rupert Murdoch and News Corporation to withdraw their bid for BSkyB”, a motion that has the support of the three major parties.
The phone-hacking allegations and use of illegal or questionable methods of information gathering are no longer strictly limited to News of the World. Former PM Gordon Brown spoke publicly yesterday about News International papers accessing his legal, medical and financial records, accusing the well-regarded Sunday Times of hiring well-known criminals to search for information for stories.
“I’m shocked, I’m genuinely shocked, to find that this happened because of their links with criminals, known criminals, who were undertaking this activity, hired by investigators with the Sunday Times,” said Brown. “I just can’t understand this — if I, with all the protection and all the defences and all the security that a chancellor of the exchequer or a prime minister, am so vulnerable to unscrupulous tactics, to unlawful tactics, methods that have been used in the way we have found, what about the ordinary citizen?”
Brown spoke of how The Sun published a story revealing that Brown’s infant son had been recently diagnosed with cystic fibrosis. When asked how he reacted to the news, Brown said:
“In tears. Your son is now going to be broadcast across the media. Sarah and I were incredibly upset about it. We were thinking about his long-term future. We were thinking about our family. But there’s nothing that you can do about it. You’re in public life. And this story appears. You don’t know how it’s appeared. I’ve not questioned how it’s appeared. I’ve not made any allegations about how it’s appeared. I’ve not made any claims about [how it appeared]. But the fact is it did appear. And it did appear in the Sun newspaper.”
The Sun denies that it illegally accessed Brown’s family medical records and argues that a member of the public came to them with the information about Brown’s son. A statement on the News Corporation website reads:
“We are able to assure the Brown family that we did not access the medical records of their son, nor did we commission anyone to do so.
The story The Sun ran about their son originated from a member of the public whose family has also experienced cystic fibrosis. He came to The Sun with this information voluntarily because he wanted to highlight the cause of those afflicted by the disease. The individual has provided a written affidavit this afternoon to a lawyer confirming this.”
A parliamentary inquiry under way into why police investigations into the NotW scandal failed to uncover information years ago, involved several senior investigators getting grilled and mocked by the committee yesterday. As The New York Times reports:
Some of the most humbling moments for the police came as members of the home affairs committee demanded to know why John Yates, the head of the police’s counterterrorism force, spent only one day in a formal review of an earlier police investigation before concluding in 2009 that there was nothing more to it. At one point a committee member, Steve McCabe, leaned into his microphone and said, “You just don’t seem like the dogged, determined sleuth that we would expect.”
That was followed by the committee chairman, Keith Vaz, rebuking Andy Hayman, the officer (now retired) who oversaw the original investigation from 2005 to 2007: “All this sounds more like Clouseau than Columbo.”
Mr Hayman acknowledged that he had private dinners with journalists from the News of the World during the investigation. When he defended that by saying that to “have turned it down would have been potentially more suspicious than to have it,” peals of laughter erupted in the hearing room.
The Guardian wrote in its editorial that it was glad to see politicians finally question the police and News execs.
“It was heartening to see parliamentarians begin to recognise that a malady which began with the intimidation of elective power can only be remedied through its reassertion.”
It has also been revealed that thousands more people are thought to have been hacked than previously realised and that only 170 of those had been contacted by police, although 9000 phone numbers had been found.
US shareholders of News Corp — not to be confused with Murdoch’s UK operations News International — are suing News Corp over the purchase of Shine Group Ltd, a company run by Rupert’s daughter Elisabeth Murdoch, since they argue the purchase was nepotism not a valid business strategy. The shareholders have updated their case to include the News of the World allegations as proof that the company failed to do its job properly. As Reuters reports:
“Shareholders called it “inconceivable” that directors were not aware sooner of the questionable news practices that led to the closure of the News of the World tabloid, given that news of the hackings first surfaced in 2005. This, the shareholders said, reflects a board that “provides no effective review or oversight,” in a corporate culture “run amok,” according to the amended complaint dated July 8 and filed in Delaware Chancery Court. “
Perhaps Murdoch should sell the papers and just concentrate on buying BSkyB, writes John Cassidy in the New Yorker:
“For Murdoch to abandon Fleet Street after almost sixty years of involvement would come as a great shock to many, myself included, but I no longer think it can be ruled out as a possibility … From a business perspective, ditching the newspapers would be an eminently defendable move. In recent years, they have contributed relatively little to News Corp’s profits.”
If all this reading about the scandal is getting a little heavy and you’d prefer just to get your news in song form, this lovely video of Billy Bragg performing Never Buy the Sun, a tribute to way “Scousers” never buy The Sun is a great way to start the morning.
Tuesday July 12
UK tabloid News of the World got the chop by its Murdoch owners last week, but the headlines continue to be dominated by the masthead, as more incredible revelations roll out in rival news outlets.
How today’s UK papers are covering the NotW scandal
The latest? News that former prime minister Gordon Brown was targeted for over a decade by a variety of News International journalists — these dubious attempts at attaining information don’t just involve hacking into his voice mail, but also accessing legal records, tax records, bank information and the private medical records of his family for nearly a decade.
As part of this, Rebekah Brooks, the former NotW editor and current News International chief that Rupert is holding on to for dear life, rang Brown to announce that they were aware that Brown’s infant son had been diagnosed with cystic fibrosis and The Sun, the paper she was editor of at the time, was writing a story about it.
It seems a private investigator was hired to bribe police into giving information about Brown. Private information about Brown was published by a number of News International papers, including the Sunday Times, The Sun and NotW. Gordon Brown is expected to make a statement about the claims today.
It’s also been revealed that up to 10 members of the royal family have been informed that their phones may be also been hacked, including the Prince of Wales and the Duchess of Cornwall — aka Charles and Camilla. Two Scotland Yard royal protection officers were allegedly paid bribes to reveal the private contact details of the royals.
Not only that, but police themselves were targets, with five senior police investigators charged with investigating the News of the World phone scandal realising their own phones had been hacked. The New York Times reports:
“The disclosure, based on interviews with former and current officials knowledgeable about the investigation, raises the question of whether senior criminal investigators had concerns that if they aggressively investigated The News of the World, they would be punished with splashy stories about their secrets, some of which were tabloid-ready.
As it turned out, several damaging allegations about two of the senior officers’ private lives were later revealed by other news outlets — charges that one had padded his expense reports and was involved in extramarital affairs and that the other used frequent flier miles accrued on the job for personal vacations.”
There are also reports that victims and families of the 9/11 terror attacks were victims of the phone hacking, based on an allegation by a New York policeman that he was approached for details.
The family of Milly Dowler, the 13-year-old missing girl who had her phone hacked, met yesterday with deputy prime minister Nick Clegg and then publicly pleaded for Rebekah Brooks to resign.
But is Brooks being kept around simply to shield James Murdoch? Dan Sabbagh in The Guardian thinks so:
“The intent of the plan seems pretty clear: to insulate NI’s chief executive, Rebekah Brooks – whose closeness to Rupert Murdoch was underlined by an all-smiles dinner trip in front of the cameras in London on Sunday night – but above all to protect Murdoch’s son James, the News Corp chairman in Europe, and the man marked out as the heir to Rupert, at a business that for all its size is a family firm in which the patriarch has done deal after deal to protect his personal control.”
News International executives are now accused of a cover-up, with 300 emails — apparently a ‘smoking gun’ implicating senior company execs — presented to police on June 20, but it has now emerged News International execs have been in possession of the email dossier since April.
Will Rupert Murdoch still be allowed to purchase the BSkyB television network? Culture Secretary Jeremy Hunt today referred the deal to the Competition Commission to investigate, noting that the Commission will examine “all relevant recent developments” before deciding if the Murdoch-led merger can go ahead. A desperate Rupert Murdoch flew in to London on the weekend.
Even former NSW Premier Bob Carr has weighed in on the BSkyB debacle, writing on his blog that regardless of the NotW scandal, British pollies don’t want a UK version of Fox News:
“Nobody in British Labour or the Lib-Democrats want to see a British channel sprouting the deranged, right-wing nonsense they hear on Fox from the time the channel starts the day with that daffy trio struggling to digest the news and reduce it to kindergarten terms to the hateful diatribes – literally hate-full – that fill the airwaves when the channel warms up. The British don’t want freaks and monsters of the far right shoved down the airwaves. They don’t want News to find and promote a local Glenn Beck on a channel run by a British Roger Ailes.”
Closer to home, head of journalism at UTS Alan Knight writes in The Sydney Morning Herald that “giving Sky the Australia Network contract could hurt the nation’s image. ”
But in some good news for News of the World (better late than never, right?), it seems all 4.5 million copies of the final edition of the paper sold out. That gives the paper its highest sales since 1998, with the profits from sales of the souvenir edition — about £3.3 million — to be donated to charity. Seems unlikely that will be enough to buy back the goodwill of the public.
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