It’s official: The British House of Commons Culture, Media and Sport Committee concluded in a report released today that Rupert Murdoch is unfit to lead a major company.
When it comes to matters like the phone hacking, he exhibited “wilful (sic) blindness” to his companies practices, which the Committee concluded “permeated from the top and throughout the organization.”
As stated in the report on page 70:
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.
Murdoch can get some solace from the fact that Conservative members of the committee stood by him when it came to this and other conclusions drawn from the testimony and other evidence collected on the matter of his publications’ frequent practice of hacking phones, be it the phone of a little girl who was kidnapped and murdered, a celebrity or a politician. Bribing the police, no biggy. After all, all is fair in love and what Murdoch’s version of journalism.
Among the committee’s other conclusions, several of Murdoch’s surrogate’s misled (or lied) to the Committee. As reflected on page 84, the committee concluded that Les Hinton misled the committee on the issue of payments to Cliv Goodman that he authorized – including his legal fee. He also misled the commitment about the extent of his knowledge about the scope of phone hacking practices at News of the World.
The Committee concluded that Tom Crone, another former legal adviser, misled the committee regarding “the significance of confidentiality in the Gordon Taylor settlement” and about commissioning surveillance.
Settlement is a polite way to say that News of the World paid Taylor, a British football player, off to keep quiet about his phone being hacked.
Tom Crone and Colin Myler, who is currently the Editor for the New York Daily News, gave misleading answers to questions by the committee about their awareness of evidence that other NOTW employees engaged in phone hacking and other illegal activities.
Tom Crone misled the Committee in 2009 by giving a counter-impression of the Significance of confidentiality in the Gordon Taylor settlement (see paragraph 118) and sought to mislead the Committee about the commissioning of surveillance.
NOTW as an entity, misled the committee.
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 ( My bold for emphasis)
The conclusions in earlier reports on the issue of phone hacked were validated by the outcome of civil court cases and evidence that subsequently came to light.
From the Report, page 13:
We stand by the conclusions over phone-hacking in the Committee’s 2010 Report on Press standards, privacy and libel. As this Report sets out, those conclusions have been vindicated—and, indeed, reinforced—by evidence which started to emerge because of civil actions later that year, from continued pursuit of the matter by the Guardian and other newspapers, and from further disclosures made as a result of our work in 2011.
The Committee attributed the falsehoods presented by the Murdochs and others as a factor limiting the Committee’s ability to fully determine the extent of NOTW’s phone hacking.
Yes, anyone who is familiar with Murdoch and his special brand of news reporting, including me, will be far from surprised by these conclusions. When you own a media outlet that claims to be fair and balanced while it reads GOP press releases and calls it news, the notion of misleading people is second nature.
By logical extension, if you do something illegal, the natural instinct is to cover it up. When that fails, you obstruct with lies and trickery in the name of minimizing the fall out.
Of course, some will suggest that since the conclusions of this committee were partisan (in fact, the conservative members rejected every conclusion) its legitimacy and strength are questionable. First of all, the Committee’s findings do correspond with findings by the courts in several of the many lawsuits filed against News Corp. and settlements with high profile individuals whose phones were hacked.
The hacking of Milly Dowler’s phone (as well as other incidents) was verified by other news sources.
Second, party discipline is a characteristic of parliamentary democracy. If Party A proposes a motion saying the sky is blue, then as a matter of routine, members of Party B will vote against the motion.
In other words, regardless of findings by the courts, and evidence uncovered by the committee, the notion of a bi-partisan conclusion is unlikely to happen in any instance.
The real question is whether anything will come of it? Murdoch will cry some crocodile tears to be sure, but a report saying that he established a corporate culture of deceit and cover-ups in itself will have little effect on his ability to sip cognac and waiting out the news cycle. And while his corporation faces numerous lawsuits, will Murdoch himself face any consequences? The reality is sanctions by the U.K. government are limited. However, as observed by The Christian Science Monitor, Murdoch could lose his much coveted investment in BskyB.
The finding doesn’t carry any legal weight on his own – the UK has no power to remove Murdoch from his positions at the multinational he built from after inheriting a daily newspaper in Adelaide, Australia, from his father in 1952. But UK government regulators have been considering News Corp.’s ownership of satellite station BskyB. The company now owns 39 percent of the company and had hoped to make a $13 billion bid for the full company until that effort was dropped last year as the Murdoch companies became embroiled in scandal. It’s possible that the 39 percent stake may come under scrutiny.
We do know that Murdoch will be paying some hefty legal fees to address numerous civil suits in the U.K. and many more are expected to be filed here in the U.S.. It’s very likely he will have to pay some court ordered compensation.
There is speculation that this report could perhaps provoke an investigation here in the United States. I can see the Republicans circling their wagons now. After all, without Murdoch, who can they rely on to read their press releases and call it news?
Image from ABC