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Phone-hack saga: Murdoch 'not fit' to run News Corp, blast MPs

Media baron roasted for 'wilful blindness'

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Rupert Murdoch is "not fit" to run a multinational corporation after demonstrating "wilful blindness" in his handling of the phone-hacking affair, which killed off his company's 168-year-old Sunday tabloid News of the World, MPs concluded today.

The News Corp boss "turned a blind eye" to what was going on at his companies and newspapers, the culture, media and sport select committee thundered in its report published on Tuesday.

Here's the damning verdict about Murdoch's conduct from the cross-party group of MPs:

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.

Some of those MPs were split along party lines, with Tories on the committee attempting but failing to reel in some of the criticism levelled against Murdoch and his son James, the former chairman of News International.

New York-based Murdoch junior - who recently fled his dad's British newspaper business News International, which had published NotW - was labelled by the MPs as lacking "curiosity" about the company.

They added in the report that James Murdoch's decision not to examine "crucial evidence" that pointed to phone hacking being more widespread at the Sunday tabloid rather than the actions of one "rogue reporter" demonstrated his "wilful ignorance" of running such a corporation.

News Corp, meanwhile, is yet to comment on that criticism. The multibillion-dollar outfit offered up this brief statement to The Register:

News Corporation is carefully reviewing the select committee’s report and will respond shortly. The Company fully acknowledges significant wrongdoing at News of the World and apologises to everyone whose privacy was invaded.

The MPs' report was heavily critical of News International execs. They said that the company's one-time boss Rebekah Brooks, who was editor of the NotW during coverage of Milly Dowler's disappearance in 2002, should "accept responsibility" for the actions of her reporters on the newspaper, who allegedly accessed the voicemail of the murdered schoolgirl.

She told us that she only became aware of the hacking of Milly Dowler’s telephone in early July 2011. In support of this, we note that she has stated that she was on holiday between 9 and 13 April 2002, the period over which Surrey Police had most contact with the News of the World about the Milly Dowler story, although she had returned by the following week, and contact with Surrey Police continued until 20 April 2002.

Impersonating members of a missing girl’s family; besieging an employment agency; falsely asserting cooperation with the police; falsely quoting the police; and, according to their own account, obtaining Milly Dowler’s mobile telephone number from her school friends are hardly the actions of a respectful and responsible news outlet. For those actions, and the culture which permitted them, the editor should accept responsibility.

The report also concluded that Les Hinton - who had been Murdoch's right-hand man for 52 years until he quit at the height of the phone hacking scandal in July 2011 - as well as NI legal boss Tom Crone and the News of the World's final editor Colin Myler had all "misled" the committee when submitting evidence to the MPs.

The committee claimed that "the behaviour of News International and certain witnesses in this affair demonstrated contempt for [the select committee] system in the most blatant fashion".

It is now up to the House of Commons, and not the cross-party group of MPs, to decide whether contempt had in fact been committed. The House, if it agrees with the MPs' conclusion, would then need to decide what "punishment should be imposed".

Last week, 81-year-old Murdoch appeared at the Leveson inquiry into press and ethical standards. During that grilling the News Corp chief distanced himself from the NotW by claiming he was "sorry" he hadn't shuttered it years ago.

The media, culture and sport select committee's report entitled News International and Phone-hacking is available to read over here [PDF]. ®

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