Rupert Murdoch is unfit to run a major international company and should take responsibility for a culture of illegal phone hacking that has shaken News Corp, a powerful British parliamentary committee said yesterday.
Pulling few punches, lawmakers focused on the failings of the 81-year-old News Corp chief executive, his son James and a company that they said had showed “willful blindness” about the scale of phone-hacking that first emerged at Murdoch’s News of the World newspaper.
The cross-party committee, which approved the report by a majority of six to four, scolded News Corp for misleading the British parliament and trying to cover up illegal phone hacking. It said that there had been huge failures in corporate governance, which raised questions about the competence of Rupert’s 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,” the lawmakers said in an 85-page report.
“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,” they said.
The report may force James Murdoch, once heir apparent to the media empire, to sever his last ties with Britain’s biggest satellite TV firm BSkyB, which News Corp had sought to take over before the scandal.
In the week of local elections, the report could also embarrass British Prime Minister David Cameron, who has acknowledged that Britain’s political elite has been dazzled and charmed by the Murdoch’s media clout for years.
The committee has been investigating the allegations on and off since a single reporter went to jail for the crime in 2007, believing that the practice went far beyond the one “rogue” staffer and questioning a string of executives over what they knew and when.
Rupert Murdoch has apologized for the scandal, but told a judicial inquiry into press ethics last week that senior staff at his British newspaper publisher had hidden the hacking scandal.
The 39-year-old James has also apologized for failing to get to the bottom of the scandal, but said he was kept in the dark by staff at the paper.
Both Rupert and James Murdoch have put the blame on the journalists and in particular on the News of the World’s former lawyer Tom Crone and former editor Colin Myler.
The committee will present its report to parliament, which is likely to hold a debate on its findings, and the government then has 60 days to respond.
Media regulator Ofcom will take the report’s findings into consideration in its assessment of whether BSkyB’s owners and directors are “fit and proper” persons to hold a broadcast licence.