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More troubles for the Murdoch family media empire in the US and UK and their News Corp and 21st Century Fox companies. In London, News UK admitted “vicarious liability” as part of a lawsuit settlement in London. The Irish edition of the company’s now defunct News of the World tabloid hired a private investigator who hacked the computer of Ian Hurst, a former British Army intelligence officer, according to Hurst’s lawyer, Jeremy Reed. The interception of his emails took place more than a decade ago, after Hurst had written a book about his experiences in Northern Ireland. News UK agreed to pay Hurst a “substantial amount in damages,” its lawyer said in court on Friday.

And, in a separate incident on Friday in London, Royal London Asset Management said it would vote against the re-election of James Murdoch as Sky chairman at the company’s annual meeting next Thursday night (Sydney time), saying the board needs independent oversight, especially in light of the 11.7 billion-pound (US$15.3 billion) offer from the Murdoch family’s 21st Century Fox. There has been growing opposition to James Murdoch’s re-election from some UK corporate governance advisers.

Britain’s Competition & Markets Authority is investigating whether Fox’s acquisition of Sky would give Murdoch too much influence over the country’s media. In addition, regulators have been asked to look at the company’s broadcasting standards in light of the News of the World phone-hacking scandals in the UK and sexual harassment allegations in the US, which precipitated the recent “voluntary leave” of Dianne Brandi, executive vice-president of business and legal affairs at Fox.

Brandi is a Fox News veteran, having been there since its start under Roger Ailes in 1996. She was Fox News general counsel who has been named among the defendants in a number of the lawsuits. She was heavily involved in its operation, including human resources and talent relations — which included handling the now numerous sexual harassment claims against the likes of Ailes and Bill O’Reilly, and separate claims of racist comments and abuse by other staffers. US media reports said Brandi was taking a “voluntary leave”. It is not certain if it is permanent or for a short time.

Vanity Fair noted in a short comment:

“As Ailes’s longtime in-house lawyer, Brandi had an inside view of many of Ailes’s alleged abuses of power. ‘She knows everything,’ one Fox anchor said. Insiders theorise that her extensive roadmap of where the bodies are buried may have protected her at Fox. But lately that protection has been weakening. Prosecutors are said to be looking at how Brandi negotiated multiple sexual harassment settlements for Ailes, including the $3.15 million payout to Fox’s former head of booking Laurie Luhn; and how Brandi reportedly hired private investigators to obtain journalists’ phone records (Brandi denied this at the time). More recently, Brandi has been named in numerous racial and gender discrimination lawsuits filed by Fox employees.”

In mid-September, Fox News was sued by a political commentator Scottie Nell Hughes, “who claimed that she had been raped by the longtime Fox News anchor Charles Payne and was then retaliated against by the network after she came forward with her allegation”.

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Peter Fray
Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey
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