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Tuesday, 1 May 2012

Rupert Murdoch was branded “not a fit person” to run a major company


14:58 |


 Rupert Murdoch was branded “not a fit person” to run a major company in a bombshell report by MPs today. His son and business heir James was accused of “wilful ignorance” towards phone hacking, while Murdoch executives were accused of lying to cover it up. The verdicts leave the 81-year-old tycoon fighting to justify his leadership of a worldwide empire including the broadcaster BSkyB. He faces being dragged before Parliament to apologise. The force of the report was partly diminished by a row between members of the culture select committee. Four Conservatives voted against the final draft because they felt the attack on Rupert Murdoch’s fitness  to run a company was over the top. However, the final 100-page report backed by the Labour and Lib-Dem MPs on the committee amounted to one of the most scathing parliamentary verdicts on an international business. The MPs said Rebekah Brooks, former News of the World editor and chief executive of News International, “should accept responsibility” for the culture that led to Milly Dowler’s phone being hacked, along with hundreds of others. The report also found editors, lawyers, the police and prosecutors guilty of a catalogue of failings. Several former Murdoch lieutenants were singled out for misleading Parliament, including former News International executive chairman Les Hinton, former News Group  lawyer Tom Crone, and former News of the World editor Colin Myler. It criticised the Director of Public Prosecutions, Keir Starmer, and the former Metropolitan Police acting deputy commissioner John Yates, saying “they both bear culpability for failing to ensure that the evidence ... was properly investigated.” Rupert Murdoch was accused of “wilful blindness” about the mounting evidence of phone hacking. The verdict will add muscle to shareholders seeking to topple Mr Murdoch and to critics demanding that media regulator Ofcom strip him of his broadcasting licence. The report accused the Murdoch companies of trying to “buy the silence” of victims by awarding huge payouts to victims of hacking such as football players’ union boss Gordon Taylor. Verdicts on some figures who have been arrested by the police were held back in case they hampered fair trials. Among these was Andy Coulson, the former News of the World editor who was hired by David Cameron as his spin chief at No 10. The ferocious conclusion, which divided the committee in a series of votes on the final wording, was that Mr Murdoch was ultimately to blame and therefore not fit to hold his position. It said: “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.” The committee branded it “simply astonishing” that Rupert and James said it was not until December 2010 that they realised that News International’s claim that hacking involved a single “rogue reporter” was untrue. It poured scorn on James Murdoch’s “lack of curiosity” that raised “questions of competence”. Mr Hinton was “complicit in the cover-up at News International” that included paying inflated compensation to victims. Mr Crone and Mr Myler misled the committee by answering questions “falsely”. The final devastating verdict on Mr Murdoch was a triumph for Labour MP Tom Watson who drafted the conclusions. But the 11-member committee divided along party lines, with the full denunciation being passed by the vote of a single Liberal Democrat member. Mr Watson said of Rupert Murdoch: “More than any individual alive, he is to blame. Morally, the deeds are his. He paid the piper and he called the tune.” Conservative MPs Louise Mensch and Philip Davies insisted the MPs had no right to make such a ruling and hit out at “partisan” voting by Labour members led by Mr Watson and Paul Farrelly. Mrs Mensch said Tory members could not back the declaration, describing it as “wildly outside the scope” of the committee and “improper attempt to influence” watchdog Ofcom.” Mr Davies said Mr Murdoch was “very clearly” a fit and proper person to run a major firm, pointing to the jobs he had created. He added: “Many people may conclude that some people’s conclusions were written before any of the evidence was heard, and that is very sad.” Mr Watson said he was disappointed there had been splits, but insisted Mr Murdoch must be held to account for crimes at News Corporation. Committee chair John Whittingdale said he did not vote on any of the amendments in the report, but hinted at his opinion on whether it should have branded Mr Murdoch unfit, saying: “I would merely observe that as well as being the chairman of the committee, I am a Conservative MP.” Lib-Dem member Adrian Sanders who was effectively left with the casting vote, sided with the Labour view. He said he would have faced accusations of party bias whichever way he had decided. After the report was published Mr Watson said he had “reason to believe” that even more the material in the form of hard drives was in the hands of the Serious Organised Crime Agency. He sought to extend the probe into new areas — including claims News Corp could be in contempt of Parliament over claims they sought to use private investigators to dig dirt on committee members. He also said politicians — including Tony Blair and Gordon Brown as well as David Cameron and George Osborne — should reveal their email and text message contacts with News Corp executives.


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