Mogul Rupert Murdoch has been declared “not a fit person” to lead a major organisation in a new report by the UK parliamentary committee examining the News of the World phone hacking scandal.
The 121-page report by the House of Commons Culture, Media and Sport Committee slammed both Rupert and James Murdoch — as well as a host of other News International executives — for their role in failing to investigate claims of illegal activity within their organisation. The News Corporation boss was found to have exhibited “wilful blindness” regarding allegations of phone hacking over a number of years. The most damning paragraph against Rupert appears to be the following:
“On the basis of the facts and evidence before the Committee, 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. This culture, we consider, permeated from the top throughout the organisation and speaks volumes about the lack of effective corporate governance at News Corporation and News International. We conclude, therefore, that Rupert Murdoch is not a fit person to exercise the stewardship of a major international company.”
Rupert’s reputation makes his ignorance on phone hacking even more questionable, says the report:
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“The notion that — given all that had gone on, right back to evidence given over payments to the police to our predecessor Committee in 2003 — a hands-on proprietor like Rupert Murdoch had no inkling that wrongdoing and questionable practice was not widespread at the News of the World is simply not credible.”
Not that the criticism is only against the aging media magnate:
“Corporately, the News of the World and News International misled the Committee about the true nature and extent of the internal investigations they professed to have carried out in relation to phone hacking; by making statements they would have known were not fully truthful; and by failing to disclose documents which would have helped expose the truth. Their instinct throughout, until it was too late, was to cover up rather than seek out wrongdoing and discipline the perpetrators, as they also professed they would do after the criminal convictions. In failing to investigate properly, and by ignoring evidence of widespread wrongdoing, News International and its parent News Corporation exhibited wilful blindness, for which the companies’ directors — including Rupert Murdoch and James Murdoch — should ultimately be prepared to take responsibility.”
While News Corporation admitted it had made mistakes, it labelled the parliamentary committee’s report as “highly partisan” in a press release responding to it:
“Hard truths have emerged from the Select Committee Report: that there was serious wrongdoing at the News of the World; that our response to the wrongdoing was too slow and too defensive; and that some of our employees misled the Select Committee in 2009.
News Corporation regrets, however, that the Select Committee’s analysis of the factual record was followed by some commentary that we, and indeed several members of the committee, consider unjustified and highly partisan. These remarks divided the members along party lines.
We have already confronted and have acted on the failings documented in the Report: we have conducted internal reviews of operations at newspapers in the United Kingdom and indeed around the world, far beyond anything asked of us by the Metropolitan Police; we have volunteered any evidence of apparent wrongdoing to the authorities; and, we have instituted sweeping changes in our internal controls and our compliance programs on a world-wide basis, to help ensure that nothing like this ever happens again anywhere at News Corporation. “
This report ramps up the pressure on Rupert, argues Martin Hickman in The Independent:
“If Rupert Murdoch believed his appearance at the Leveson judicial inquiry last week would quell the ever louder outcry over his and his company’s conduct, he was wrong. By far the most damning judgement of this report is reserved for the 81-year-old chairman and chief executive of News Corporation.”
“Wilful blindless” is a serious allegation, say Simon Bowers and Dominic Rushe in The Guardian:
“The allegation of wilful blindness — sometimes referred to in Britain as turning the Nelsonian eye — is, in a legal context, often levelled by prosecutors at defendants who acknowledge they have unwittingly played a part in a criminal act of which they had no knowledge at the time.
When it comes to the business world, however, the allegation can be more powerful as directors of companies are required by law to exercise proper responsibility on behalf of the company’s shareholders.”
The hacking allegations aren’t over yet, note John F. Burns and Ravi Somaiya in The New York Times:
“Though the majority of the report is dedicated to the critique and condemnation of the defenses senior executives have presented to Parliament over years, it offers new details that suggest the scandal has not yet fully crested. Dotted through its 121 pages are references to sealed documents and an audio tape containing possibly unrevealed names of those involved in illegality; a potentially explosive impending legal judgment; significant areas under review by Scotland Yard; and a file of evidence gathered by the company that the panel of lawmakers behind the report has said may have been instrumental in covering up phone hacking.”
But the committee report also reveals a lot about the workings of UK politics, writes Patrick Wintour in The Guardian:
“The 85-page select committee report on Rupert Murdoch’s empire is politically explosive, but so is the subsequent 17 pages showing a bloc of four Conservative MPs repeatedly voting to soften the damning conclusions Lib Dem and Labour MPs were determined to reach.”