Rupert Murdoch is “not a fit person to exercise the stewardship of a major international company”, a committee of MPs has concluded today.
In a damning report on News International and phone hacking, the Commons culture, media and sport select committee accused the media mogul of exhibiting “wilful blindness to what was going on in his companies and publications” and not taking steps to become fully informed about the extent of phone hacking at his empire. It said:
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.
The report accused three former News International executives — Les Hinton, Colin Myler, and Tom Crone — of misleading the committee during its inquiries, which began in July 2011 in the wake of revelations about the extent of phone hacking at the now defunct News of the World. The report said that NI’s former legal manager Crone and ex-News of the World editor Myler “deliberately avoided disclosing crucial information to the Committee and, when asked to do, answered questions falsely”.
The report said that the company “finally realised that its containment approach had failed” by spring 2011 in the wake of civil cases brought forward, and that its “one rogue reporter” stance was by then no longer credible. It said that News Corp’s strategy was to “lay the blame on certain individuals” (citing Myler and Crone amongst others) while “striving to protect more senior figures, notably James Murdoch.”
“Even if there were a ‘don’t ask, don’t tell’ culture at News International, the whole affair demonstrates huge failings of corporate governance at the company and its parent, News Corporation”, the report added.
Meanwhile, former NI chairman James Murdoch, who gave evidence to the committee along with his father last year, was accused of “wilful ignorance” and of betraying “astonishing lack of curiosity on the part of a chief executive” for not having inquired more deeply into the extent of the practice in 2008, at the time of negotiations surrounding a £700,000 phone-hacking settlement paid to the Professional Footballers’ Association boss, Gordon Taylor.
“Had James Murdoch been more attentive to the correspondence that he received at the time, he could have taken action on phone hacking in 2008 and this committee could have been told the truth in 2009,” the report said.
Last month the younger Murdoch resigned as chairman of BSkyB, whose parent company News Corporation was founded by his father. He also stood down as chairman of the newspaper publisher, News International, earlier this year.
However the report’s conclusions were not unanimous, with the committee split over several of its findings. The motion to submit the report to Parliament passed by a majority of six to four, with four Conservative members opposing. Four of the five Tory members of the committee also refused to declare the elder Murdoch was a fit person to run an international company.
“This line about Rupert Murdoch not being fit was stuck in on the basis of no evidence to the committee whatsoever,” Tory MP Louise Mensch said. She added that the report was “carried on political lines” and feared its credibility had been damaged as a result of not having full backing of all committee members. Committee chair John Whittingdale stressed, however, that the committee was “wholly agreed” on the main findings relating to their being misled by named individuals.
Meanwhile, Ofcom released a statement noting it had seen today’s report:
Ofcom has a duty under the Broadcasting Acts 1990 and 1996 to be satisfied that any person holding a broadcasting licence is, and remains, fit and proper to do so. Ofcom is continuing to assess the evidence – including the new and emerging evidence – that may assist it in discharging these duties.
Marta Cooper is an editorial researcher at Index. She tweets at @martaruco