Rupert Murdoch is filthy rich and has amassed enormous political power in Britain, the U.S. and Australia that would have made even Citizen Kane blush, but he has never attained and now never will attain the one thing he has most wanted — respect.
In an extraordinarily damning report released today, a select Parliamentary committee concludes that Murdoch is “not a fit person” to run his huge international media empire.
The report followed a months’ long investigation into the phone hacking scandal at Murdoch’s British newspapers and said he had exhibited “a willful blindness” to wrongdoing at his New York-based News Corporation, a global conglomerate of newspapers, magazines, Fox News and other broadcast outlets.
While the consequences of the Parliamentary panel’s findings were not immediately clear, it is unimaginable that a U.S. congressional committee would issue such a report, let alone investigate the unscrupulous and possibly criminal activities of the deeply conservative media baron. In fact, requests by Senator Jay Rockefeller, the West Virginia Democrat, for the FBI to investigate whether News Corporation engaged in similar tactics in the U.S. have gone nowhere.
The cross-party Parliamentary committee, which approved the report by a majority of six to four, scolded News Corporation for misleading Parliament and trying to cover up the hacking. It said that there had been huge failures in corporate governance which also raised questions about the competence of his son, James.
“News International and its parent News Corporation exhibited willful blindness, for which the companies’ directors — including Rupert Murdoch and James Murdoch — should ultimately take responsibility,” it said. “Their instinct throughout, until it was too late, was to cover up rather than seek out wrongdoing and discipline the perpetrators.”
“Even if there were a ‘don’t ask, don’t tell’ culture at News International, the whole affair demonstrates huge failings of corporate governance at the company and its parent, News Corporation,” the 85-page report concluded.
The impact of the report was blunted by divisions within the panel itself. The committee said it had been split on party lines in the assessment of Murdoch, with the dominant Conservatives opposing the criticism while the Liberal Democrats, the junior coalition partner in Prime Minister David Cameron’s government, and the Labour opposition supporting it.
Murdoch, 81, and son James, 39, had long asserted and claimed last week in testimony before a separate judicial inquiry that the hacking was the result of a single rogue reporter and that they had no direct knowledge of its extent. This included the hacking in 2002 of a mobile phone belonging to Milly Dowler, an abducted and subsequently murdered teenager.
In a statement from its New York headquarters, News Corporation said it was “carefully reviewing the select committee’s report and will respond shortly.” It also said the company “fully acknowledges significant wrongdoing at News of the World”– the now-shuttered Sunday tabloid at the heart of the scandal — “and apologizes to everyone whose privacy was invaded.”
British police are conducting three separate investigations into phone hacking, e-mail hacking and bribery of police officers. More than 40 people have been arrested and questioned — though not charged — including senior editors and executives at the News International subsidiary.
The report also could embarrass Cameron, who has acknowledged that Britain’s political elite has been dazzled and charmed by the Murdoch’s media clout for years. The scandal also has threatened Jeremy Hunt, Cameron’s culture minister, who was in charge of overseeing a $12 billion BSkyB takeover bid by News Corporation that collapsed as the hacking scandal grew. As culture minister, Hunt had the power to waive regulatory scrutiny that could have doomed the takeover.
The elder Murdoch is filthy rich and has amassed enormous political power in Britain, the U.S. and Australia that would have made even Citizen Kane blush, but he has never attained and never will attain the one thing he has most wanted — respect.