Fighting in public: Media committee split as Labour goes to war with Murdoch

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Tom Watson was at the centre of MPs outbursts today
Tom Watson was at the centre of MPs outbursts today

Members of the media select committee engaged in a bruising war of words today, as they publicly clashed over its damning assessment of Rupert Murdoch.

The committee's conclusion that Mr Murdoch was not "fit" to run an international company was not supported by any Conservatives but was carried due to Labour backing, continuing the opposition's much starker opposition to News Corp.

Conservative Philip Davies used the press conference for the publication of the report to launch a personal attack against Labour MP and fellow committee member Tom Watson, saying "some people are getting carried away".

He added: "We are making decisions which hurt people's lives, their reputations."


Tory MP Louise Mensch said: "I have the highest respect for my friend and colleague Tom Watson. That said… no Conservative member of this committee was able to recommend the report itself to the House.

"We shared different views on the culpability of James Murdoch in particular. It will be correctly seen as a partisan report."

Ms Mensch went on to say that the judgement that Rupert Murdoch was not "fit" to run a major company was "well outside" the scope of a select committee and an attempt to influence Ofcom.

"This is the result were left with and I think it's a real great shame," she said.

Several Labour MPs came to Mr Watson's aid. One said Mr Davis "has decided to personalise this".

But Mr Watson made himself heard at the press conference, with a colourful speech attacking Mr Murdoch and his media empire.

"I'm disappointed some members of the committee did not feel they could hold the powerful to account," he said.

He added: "[News International] corrupted our country. They bought shame on our police force. We should all be ashamed to think how we cowered before them for so long.

"Rupert Murdoch, more than any individual alive, is to blame. It is his failure, his lies, his crimes, the price of profits and his power."

After Mr Watson's statement, committee chair John Whittingdale commented: "I think it fair to say that was not the unanimous view of the committee."

The falling out of the committee is a surprising development, given it had conducted itself with what appeared to be a united front for the duration of its investigation into whether parliament was misled over phone-hacking.

Select committees are composed by MPs from various parties. Some of them, such as the Treasury committee, are constantly prone to party-political infighting.

Others, such as the home affairs committee, tend to become more divided depending on the political importance of the investigation.

But today's press conference was a particularly dramatic instance of a select committee failing to work together, with MPs launching increasingly personal attacks on each other in front of gathered members of the press.

The division highlights the strong emotions that accompany the phone-hacking issue, but they also reveal how party-political the row is becoming.

The report comes as David Cameron tries to bat away Labour demands for the resignation of Jeremy Hunt over allegations of bias towards News Corp's bid for BSkyB.

On the key issue of Rupert Murdoch's fitness to run a major company, the committee split on party political lines. The decision was carried because Liberal Democrat MP Adrian Sanders voted with Labour.

All members of the committee, however, said they were "astonished" that James and Rupert Murdoch failed to see the extent of phone-hacking at their company and that members of News International had misled parliament.


 

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