Rupert Murdoch is not a “fit person” to run a major international corporation, a committee of MPs said today.
The Commons Culture, Media and Sport Committee said Murdoch had exhibited a “wilful blindness” over the phone hacking scandal, and accused News Corporation of “huge failings of corporate governance”, saying its instinct had been “to cover up, rather than seek out wrongdoing and discipline the perpetrators”.
The report also accused three former senior News International executives - Les Hinton, Colin Myler and Tom Crone - of misleading the committee during its inquiries into the scandal. News International is News Corporation's newspaper publishing arm in the United Kingdom.
Hinton was found to have misled the committee in 2009 when he gave evidence about payments made to Clive Goodman - the former royal editor of the News of the World who was jailed for four months in 2007 over phone hacking.
Myler, a former editor of News of the World, and Crone, News of the World's former legal manager, were found to have misled the committee over knowledge that other members of staff had been involved in phone hacking.
The committee could now ask the House of Commons to decide if a contempt of Parliament had occured and if so, what the punishment should be.
The committee's report said: "The integrity and effectiveness of the select committee system relies on the truthfulness and completeness of the oral and written evidence submitted...The behaviour of News International and certain witnesses in this affair demonstrated contempt for that system in the most blatant fashion."
The committee found Rupert Murdoch's son James, News International's former executive chairman, had displayed “wilful ignorance” and a “lack of curiosity” over phone hacking.
It described as “simply astonishing” the fact he had not sought more evidence and information, and had maintained phone hacking was down to a single rouge reporter even after he authorised a £700,000 payout to Gordon Taylor, chief executive of the Professional Footballers' Association. It said the findings raised questions over his competence.
The committee said Rebekah Brooks, News International's former Chief Executive Officer, should accept responsibility for News of the World’s “indefensible behaviour” in its coverage of the investigation into the murder of schoolgirl Milly Dowler. Brooks was editor of News of the World at the time.
A spokesman for media regulator Ofcom 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.”
On Rupert Murdoch’s competence, 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.”
However, the Committee was split along party lines on many key issues, including its verdict on Murdoch’s competence. Conservative committee members voted against finding Murdoch unfit, while Labour and Liberal Democrat members voted in favour.
Expressing disappointment that the committee had not reached a unanimous conclusion, Labour committee member Tom Watson, who was at the forefront of efforts to expose the extent of phone hacking, said: “The truth is that whatever we have said in our report and however you choose to report it, the public have made up their minds: powerful people were involved in a cover-up and they still haven't accepted responsibility...And after all of this, the story is not yet over.”
“These people corrupted our country. They brought shame on our police force and our Parliament. They lied, they cheated, blackmailed and bullied and we should all be ashamed when we think how we cowered before them for too long.”
Watson called for a series of fresh inquiries by the Home Affairs Select Committee into new aspects of the case, adding he had "reason to believe" that the Serious and Organised Crime Agency possessed seized hard drives that included details of computer hacking victims that it was failing to inform.
He also asked for a Commons investigation into a potential contempt of Parliament over claims that private detectives were hired to dig into the private lives of the committee, and called for all serving and former prime ministers and chancellors to reveal full details text and email contacts with News Corporation executives.
Conservative committee member Louise Mensch blamed Labour committee members for the inability to reach unanimous agreement on the “partisan” report, criticising the decision to question Rupert Murdoch's fitness to run an international news company.
She said: “Conservative members of the committee did not vote as a bloc and often disagreed with each other and divided in different ways on different amendments. That was not, however, the same with our Labour colleagues.
”And it is not simply a matter of not voting for certain amendments. No Conservative member on this committee with a vote was able to recommend the report itself to the House.
“And every one of us, while we share different views about the culpability of News Corporation and the degree of culpability of James Murdoch in particular, none of us were able to support the report and we all voted against it.
”That will mean it will be correctly seen as a partisan report and will have lost a very great deal of its credibility, which is an enormous shame.
“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.
”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.“