MPs investigating phone hacking at the News of the World say News Corporation chairman Rupert Murdoch showed ‘wilful blindness’ to what was going on at his media empire.
In a damning report, members of the culture, media and sport select committee said Mr Murdoch “turned a blind eye” to phone hacking at the News of the World.
The committee said that News Corp had been guilty of “huge corporate failings of corporate governance” and that throughout, its instinct had been “to cover up rather than seek out wrongdoing and discpline the perpetrators”.
Three former senior executives of News Corp’s newspaper publishing arm, News International – Les Hinton, Colin Myler, and Tom Crone – were accused of misleading the committee during its inquiries into the scandal. Suggestions that Mr Murdoch and his son James only realised hacking was not confined to a single rogue reporter in December 2010 were described as “simply astonishing”.
The committee re-opened its inquiry into phone hacking after News of the World journalists were last year accused of hacking into the voicemails of murdered schoolgirl, Milly Dowler.
It said that former editor, Rebekah Brooks, must “accept responsibility” for presiding over a culture at the newspaper, which was forced to close in the wake of the revelations, that led to journalists hacking into the dead teenager’s phone.
However the strongest criticism was reserved for Rupert Murdoch. The report 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.”
But the committee’s findings also revealed a party split among members. The verdict on Rupert Murdoch was by a majority of six votes to four, rather than unanimous, with Tories voting against and Labour and the Lib Dems in favour.
“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.” Culture, Media and Sport select committee
Tory committee member, Louise Mensch, criticised the decision to question Rupert Murdoch’s fitness to run an international news company. “The issue on which no Conservative member felt they could support the report itself was the line in the middle of the report that said that Mr Rupert Murdoch is not a fit person to run an international company,” she said. “We all thought that was wildly outside the scope of a select committee, was an improper attempt to influence Ofcom and to tread on areas that are not the province of a select committee.”
She added that the report was “carried on political lines, and therefore, after many months of work, I fear its credibility has been damaged”.
The committee said that despite News International’s claims to assist its inquiries, it had failed to release documents which would have exposed the truth.
It said that the company “repeatedly made misleading and exaggerated claims” regarding the investigations it “purportedly” commissioned following the arrests of former royal editor, Clive Goodman, and private investigator, Glenn Mulcaire, who were jailed for phone hacking.
After the verdict – the strongest rebuke given to the company yet – News Corporation said the committee’s “analysis of the factual record was followed by some commentary that we, and indeed several members of the committee, consider unjustified and highly partisan”.
Tom Crone said: “I accept that there are valid criticisms of my conduct in this matter, but for the second time in a week, I seem to be the subject of serious allegations which lack foundaton.”
Les Hinton denied misleading the committee and being involved in a cover-up and said the report’s conclusions were “unfounded, unfair and erroneous”.
Colin Myler said he stood by the evidence he “stands by” his evidence to the committee.
The media regulator, Ofcom, added that it would also review the findings. A spokesman said: “We note the publication of the Culture, Media and Sport Committee 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.”
Efforts to expose the extent of phone hacking have been spearheaded by Tom Watson MP, a Labour committee member, who called for fresh inquiries into futher aspects of the case.