The pressure on Rupert Murdoch and News Corporation is increasing following fresh hacking claims made in a BBC Panorama program that aired in Britain this morning, our time. And, in a new development, a report on the News of the World phone hacking will air in the US tonight our time on PBS, the public TV broadcaster.
The Frontline report — Murdoch’s scandal — sees Lowell Bergman, the investigative journalist (played by Al Pacino in The Insider) explaining to American viewers how the phone-hacking scandal was broken.
Why this is important is that apart from The New York Times report in September 20110 on the hacking scandal, this will be the first major media attempt to explain the scandal to the US.
This report is also important because its in the US that News Corp and Rupert and James Murdoch are most exposed, thanks to the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act (which could leave it liable to large fines and the indictment of senior executives) if found to have made illegal payments offshore.
The BBC documentary, which was due to air a fortnight ago, but was delayed, will also add to the pressure on Murdoch and News insofar as the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act is concerned. It examines claims originally made by Australian Financial Review journalist Neil Chenoweth in his book, Virtual Murdoch. He gave the story front-page treatment in the Financial Review this morning. Seeing the BBC report has used the allegations made in his book as the basis for the Panorama report, the AFR story isn’t all that surprising.
The story has slowly grown in the British media as News Corp has tried to block or delay its screening. The Telegraph, ITV, BBC and The Guardian have all reported on some of the contents and the moves News has made to prevent the Panorama report from going to air. The Guardian reported this morning:
“Part of Rupert Murdoch’s News Corporation empire employed computer hacking to undermine the business of its chief TV rival in Britain, according to evidence due to be broadcast by BBC1’s Panorama on Monday.
“The allegations stem from apparently incriminating emails the program-makers have obtained, and on-screen descriptions for the first time from two of the people said to be involved, a German hacker and the operator of a pirate website secretly controlled by a Murdoch company.
“The witnesses allege a software company NDS, owned by News Corp, cracked the smart card codes of rival company ONdigital. ONdigital, owned by the ITV companies Granada and Carlton, eventually went under amid a welter of counterfeiting by pirates, leaving the immensely lucrative pay-TV field clear for Sky.”
Get Crikey FREE to your inbox every weekday morning with the Crikey Worm.
The Guardian also reported separately:
“NDS was almost wholly owned by News Corporation at the time ITV Digital was in operation, between 1998 and 2002, but in 2008 Rupert Murdoch sold 51% to the British venture capital firm Permira. Earlier this month, News Corp then announced the whole of NDS was to be sold to the US technology giant Cisco in a $5 billion deal, although that transaction will not close. For the moment, though, James Murdoch sits on the board of NDS Group Ltd — a board he also sat on between 1998 and 2003. His brother, Lachlan, was also on the board between 2002 and 2005.”
From what is on its website, the Frontline documentary won’t break new ground, but will explain and illustrate in far more detail to Americans just what News Corp and the Murdochs allowed to happen in London with The News of the World phone hacking.
“We may never have heard about the still-unfolding News Corporation phone hacking and bribery scandal were it not for ‘a Manchester lawyer … a reporter for The Guardian and a few members of Parliament,’ who somehow managed to bring a feared global media giant to its knees,” Frontline says in its program blurb.
While it sounds familiar to us, to most Americans it will be startling.