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Tuesday, May 01, 2012 

"Not fit."


The select committee system has at long last come of age. Today's report by the culture, media and sport committee into News International and phone hacking (PDF) is absolutely devastating, even more critical than this morning's Guardian report suggested it would be. While neither James or Rupert Murdoch are criticised for directly misleading parliament, the majority decision to say that Keith showed "wilful blindness" and so is not a "fit person to exercise the stewardship of a major international company" is as strong as it gets.

It's also, in spite of both what Louise Mensch said at the press conference this morning and News Corporation have since released in a statement, completely justified. It most certainly is partisan though, just in the completely opposite way to that implied by Mensch and News Corp. Mensch claimed that the committee had heard no evidence which could justify reaching the conclusion the majority did on Murdoch, when in fact the case is clear cut and set out unflinchingly; the entire section from paragraph 201 onwards on the corporate culture at News Corporation is detailed and focused on just that. News Corporation asked the committee to believe that even after the Guardian had published its 2009 expose on the Gordon Taylor settlement and they had issued their first report criticising the "collective amnesia" at the company that no one at the highest executive level questioned what they claim they were being told. They point out that even after the supposed epiphany in December 2010, as James Murdoch characterised it, the company was still claiming in its defence to the Sienna Miller's claim for damages that no other journalists had been involved with Glenn Mulcaire.

Since then the approach has been equally transparent: put all the blame on Colin Myler, Tom Crone and Jonathan Chapman. Involved as they undoubtedly were in the cover up, to believe it was all them is the equivalent of nonsense on stilts. Rebekah Brooks testified that "on average" she spoke to her benefactor "every other day"; are we supposed to believe that Rupert never enquired about the local difficulty with which she was personally dealing with, accusing the Graun of "likely deliberately misleading the British public", and also never talked about it with James? If, as he claimed at Leveson last week, he had long wanted to get rid of the News of the World, why didn't he at an earlier point use the scandal to act?

The reality is that as the report states Murdoch has displayed "excellent powers of recall and grasp of detail" ... "when it has suited him". All the more dubious then that when asked whether he knew for certain in January 2011 that the "rogue reporter" defence was false, he claimed to have forgotten the exact date. Furthermore, although the report doesn't make the exact argument, the fact that he saw nothing wrong with the approach taken by Neville Thurlbeck in the Max Mosley case, with his attempt to blackmail one of the women involved is a wonderful example of the culture that operated at News International, not necessarily specifically sanctioned at the highest level, but certainly condoned.

It's ridiculous then for Mensch and the other Conservatives on the committee (Therese Coffey voted against every additional criticism of both the Murdochs) to claim that it wasn't within their remit to declare whether or not Rupert was a fit and proper person to helm News Corp, and that's solely for Ofcom to decide. What is the point of politicians, and indeed a media committee unless it is make their views plain on a matter of this much importance? There was a culture of illegality at a company which was attempting to obtain a stranglehold on the British media, as the takeover of BSkyB by News Corporation would have achieved. This culture was, as even Rupert Murdoch admits, covered up. Either the executives at the company didn't know about it, in which case they were lied to and incompetent, or they knew about it and connived in it. Only finding that they thought Rupert and James's approach to everything "astonishing", as the Tories on the committee wanted the report to say, is not just a cop out, it's weak and pusillanimous.

Their real reasoning for wanting to do so though is politically sound. They know full well that this once again brings David Cameron and his lack of judgement into the equation. Yes, everyone sucked up to Murdoch, but this isn't just about Cameron being unlucky that the music stopped on his watch, it's about how he went further than New Labour ever did and installed as his spin doctor Andy Coulson, a man who resigned as News of the World editor because like the two Murdochs he knew absolutely nothing about what had happened on his watch. Despite being warned off by almost everyone other than those in the pay of Murdoch, Cameron went ahead and took Coulson into Downing Street with him, and once there instigated policy which massively favoured News International.

Just as Cameron is defending the indefensible as Ed Miliband put it yesterday by refusing to grant a separate inquiry into Jeremy Hunt's dealings with News International over the BSkyB bid, using his culture secretary as a human shield lest all the attention turn towards him, so the Tories on the committee are effectively defending the indefensible to protect their boss. The real partisanship here was from those who should have known better, and it will be something they will come to regret.

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well said. you seem to echo my views but put them far better than i can. thanks.

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