Leading article: An unacceptable face of corporatism

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The Labour MP Tom Watson certainly grabbed the attention yesterday during the Commons Culture, Media and Sports Committee hearings when he accused James Murdoch of operating his company like the mafia. Not that it discomfited too much a man who, in the course of two-and-a-half hours of questions, batted most of them away with a dogged refusal to admit that he saw anything, heard anything or said anything that might incriminate him.

Likening News International to the "mafia", however, rather misses the point. Murdoch's empire is not a group of gangsters. If it were, there would be dead bodies rather than a constant stream of revelations from former employees and lawyers abandoned as the family tries to protect itself from the fall-out from one of the most damaging scandals ever to hit Fleet Street.

With several million pounds' worth of legal advice behind him, James Murdoch was never going to admit complicity or turning a blind eye. Faced with a series of documents and recollections that appeared to indicate the contrary, again and again Rupert Murdoch's son and putative successor fell back on saying that, in signing off substantial payments to a victim of the hacking, he was never told, and never asked, whether the practice extended beyond one rogue reporter and a private investigator.

Even if that is true, it raises the question of whether he should have at least asked what was going on. Ignorance in a case as important as this would suggest culpable negligence if not deliberate avoidance.

But the underlying suspicion really is more serious. The failure to get a grip on the activities of a paper that, to all appearances, had run wild, reflected the culture of a company which failed to understand the gravity of its misdeeds and with little sense of the betrayal of ethical standards that they represented. News International persisted in seeing its main interests best served by keeping the matter quiet, rather than getting to the bottom of it, until finally forced to act by the evidence emerging from police files. That's not mafia behaviour.

But it is a regrettable strain of modern corporate culture.

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