'Wilful blindness': MPs demand Murdoch exit

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Rupert Murdoch not "fit" to run media company
Rupert Murdoch not "fit" to run media company

Rupert Murdoch is "not a fit person to exercise the stewardship of a major international company", MPs have concluded.

The culture, media and sport committee's inquiry into phone-hacking found that parliament was misled both individually and corporately.

MPs judged it to be "simply astonishing" that Rupert Murdoch and his son James had failed to realise phone-hacking went beyond more than just one rogue reporter until as late as December 2010 - and have called the Murdochs' future as major players in the British media into question as a result.

"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," the report stated.

"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."

The culture, media and sport committee's damning conclusion to its phone-hacking inquiry could pave the way for his exit from British media, as Ofcom investigates whether Mr Murdoch is a 'fit and proper person' to run a major company.

MPs found that News International bosses had sought to "cover up rather than seek out wrongdoing" wherever possible. They said the decision to ignore evidence of widespread wrongdoing was behaviour "for which the companies' directors - including Rupert Murdoch and James Murdoch - should ultimately be prepared to take responsibility."

Senior executive Les Hinton, News International's senior lawyer Tom Crone and former News of the World editor Colin Myler could all face punishment from parliament if the Commons decides they are in contempt of parliament.

Mr Hinton misled the committee by lying about payments to the News of the World's former royal editor Clive Goodman MPs said.

Mr Crone misled parliament over the settlement payment offered to football union boss Gordon Taylor. He knew that the amount had been increased to ensure Mr Taylor's silence but sought to give a "counter-impression", the report found.

MPs said both men and Mr Myler had misled the committee on the central claim that phone-hacking had not extended beyond Goodman and private investigator Glenn Mulcaire.

"Both Tom Crone and Colin Myler deliberately avoided disclosing crucial information to the committee and, when asked to do, answered questions falsely," the report stated.

The 'for Neville' email

At the heart of the committee's inquiry had been a dispute over whether Mr Murdoch was aware that phone-hacking went beyond a single "rogue reporter".

Mr Crone claimed he showed Mr Murdoch the now infamous 2008 'For Neville' email, from a News of the World reporter to its then chief reporter Neville Thurlbeck, which contained an illegally obtained transcript of football union boss Gordon Taylor's voicemails.

Mr Murdoch had insisted in his second appearance before the committee last November: "It was not shown to me, nor was it discussed with me its other feature - that it was 'For Neville', and that it might indicate wider spread knowledge or wider spread activities of phone-hacking."

MPs concluded: "Given the conflicting accounts... the reality is that we cannot come to a definitive conclusion, one way or the other."

They found James Murdoch's subsequent "lack of curiosity but wilful ignorance" after the Gordon Taylor settlement "even more astonishing", however.

"Not specifically being shown evidence, nor asking to see it, nor discussing explicitly its ramifications is not the same as not being aware," the report added.

This led to their conclusion that the Murdochs' claim that they did not realise the one 'rogue reporter' line was untrue was "simply astonishing" - and their ultimate conclusion that Rupert Murdoch should not run a major international company.

'The committee divided'

The cross-party culture, media and sport committee's conclusions were not unanimous. Formal minutes attached to the report revealed that in a lengthy meeting yesterday they failed to reach unanimity on 16 occasions.

The report stated it was "extraordinary" that senior executives were not more involved in the Gordon Taylor settlement. Three Conservatives unsuccessfully attempted to amend that conclusion to the milder statement that "it is regrettable they did not seek greater involvement where reputational matters were concerned".

Tory MPs succeeded in watering down the language of the report in some instances, however.

Conservative MP Louise Mensch successfully suggested changing a phrase attacking the Murdochs' "executive carelessness" to "a lack of openness with senior management", winning by five votes to four, for example.

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