A report by a parliamentary committee on Tuesday accused two senior executives and an editor at Rupert Murdoch’s media empire of misleading members of Parliament over Britain’s long-running phone hacking scandal.
But, controversially, the committee on culture, media and sports emerged bitterly divided along political lines over a sentence inserted by an opposition MP declaring that the 81-year-old Australian-born media tycoon is not “a fit person to exercise the stewardship of a major international company”.
“Rupert Murdoch is not a fit person to exercise the stewardship of a major international company,” the cross-party culture, media and sport committee said in its long-awaited report on the scandal.
“In failing to investigate properly, and by ignoring evidence of widespread wrongdoing, News International and its parent News Corporation exhibited wilful blindness, for which the companies’ directors — including Rupert Murdoch and James Murdoch — should ultimately be prepared to take responsibility.” The committee approved the report by six to four, split between members of the opposition Labour party who backed its findings, and Prime Minister David Cameron’s Conservatives, who opposed them.
The alleged contempt of Parliament by Murdoch’s right-hand man Les Hinton, former News of the World editor Colin Myler and former legal manager Tom Crone will now be put to vote in parliament, the chairman of the committe said.
The consequences of failing to tell the committee about what the three men knew about illegal phone hackings of celebrities, murder victims, politicians and soldiers are unknown, but may take the form of an admonition.
The report’s sentence about Murdoch’s fitness — inserted by activist Labour MP Tom Watson — prompted the ruling Conservative party members of the committee to vote against the report. One of them, Louise Mensch, said it had made the report “partisan and political”.
The criticism could have major implications for Murdoch’s empire as it could lead the media regulator Ofcom to conclude that the satellite TV company BSkyB is not ‘fit and proper’ to hold a broadcasting licence as long as Murdoch’s News Corporation owns 39% of it, observers said.
News Corp said it was “carefully reviewing” the report and would “respond shortly”. “The company fully acknowledges significant wrongdoing at News of the World and apologises to everyone whose privacy was invaded,” it said in a statement.
(With agency inputs)