Murdoch family firm ‘humbled’ before MPs

Grilled by a parliamentary committee, Murdoch father, son – and wife! – provided family drama. And a corporate strategy to apologise while denying all knowledge of the News of the World hacking scandal.

Commentators were comparing it to the end of the Wizard of Oz, when Dorothy finally gets to the Emerald City and finds that its powerful ruler is just an old man hiding behind a curtain.

Rupert Murdoch, the media mogul feared and sometimes hated by politicians in all of Britain's political parties, had been forced by the current scandal engulfing his news empire to come to the House of Commons and answer questions.

Accompanied by his youngest son, James, the executive in charge of his businesses, Mr Murdoch senior appeared pained at having to appear before parliamentarians and described it as 'the most humbling day of my career'. He is coming to the end of a working life building up a stable of popular and influential newspapers and television stations across the world.

The Murdochs faced immediate tough questioning. Tom Watson MP, who has campaigned on this issue for a long time, asked Rupert Murdoch whether the assertion that there was 'zero tolerance' of wrongdoing in his organisation could be believed.

'I was shocked, appalled, and ashamed' the elder Murdoch said with vigour, to hear about hacking of the murdered teenager Milly Dowler's mobile phone by investigators paid by the News of the World.

But when challenged on the details, the 80-year-old media mogul repeatedly pleaded ignorance of the circumstances and individuals involved in the scandal, and of the company's botched internal investigations.

'I employ 52,000 people around the world,' he said, adding: 'The News of the World was a tiny part of our business'. But with 7 million readers, more than any other newspaper, it was an important feature on the British media and political landscape until the Murdochs decided to close it down nearly two weeks ago.

The denials set the tone for most of the hearing – before, that is, the dramatic intervention by a protestor who attacked Mr Murdoch senior but was fought off by his Asian wife, Wendi, who displayed an impressive fighting style. After ten minutes, the questioning resumed, with the atmosphere of hostility against the witnesses somewhat lessened – they were allowed to read out a personal statement.

No end in sight

'What happened at the News of the World was wrong' said the Murdochs. James added it was a matter of 'deep frustration' that the extent of the invasions of privacy had come out in dribs and drabs, and that the true picture was still unclear.

Mr Murdoch senior, reading the statement, would have been delighted to find out later than his company's share price had gone up while he was vowing to restore journalism's reputation.

'We haven't seen the end of this' said James Murdoch. On this one point, everyone watching, and everyone in the room agreed.

You Decide

  1. 'Because of investigative journalism we are a more transparent, open and better society' Rupert Murdoch told MPs yesterday. Do you agree?
  2. Rupert Murdoch is head of a family company. Would you like to work with your parents or relatives? With friends? As a group, list some pros and cons of family firms.This FT report might help.

Activities

  1. Role play: three of you are the Murdochs and Rebekah Brooks, the rest a committee of MPs. How easy is it to plan your questioning? And to maintain your defence?
  2. Rupert Murdoch as Chairman of News Corp is responsible forcorporategovernance of his global media empire. This means the ethics and business practices of employees and companies. Research some examples of corporate governance failures: for example Enron or Robert Maxwell. Write a news report, an essay on the issues, or a piece of creative writing based on a business scandal.

Some People Say...

“Rupert Murdoch should decide: either he knows nothing, or he's still in control.”

What do you think?

Q & A

Why was this group of MPs questioning the Murdoch family?
Select committees, composed of MPs from all political parties, with a senior backbencher in the chair, were evolved over the 1960s, 1970s and 1980s to provide better scrutiny both of what government departments do, and the sectors in their area – so the Culture, Media and Sport committee has the right to investigate the media.
Were they any good at it?
Not bad today. Sometimes Commons committees can fail to ask the right questions and get to the truth. Or they can go too far and become aggressive – it was the confrontational questioning of David Kelly, an expert in weapons inspections, that some say preceded his suicide, by pushing a private man into the spotlight.
That's horrible.
It can be uncomfortable to watch. MPs who do well in committee can get noticed and make progress in their career. This can lead to grandstanding. And committees can hold valuable investigations.

Word Watch

Phone hacking
The scandal that engulfed the News of the World was about private investigators, paid by the newspaper, dialling into the voicemail accounts of other people's mobile telephones. This is illegal: one journalist and one investigator have already served jail terms for it.
Corporate
Adjective meaning 'of a company'. For example corporate governance means the way in which a company is run. Corporate strategy means the company's aims or the policies or direction it is pursuing.
Share price
As investors decide to buy or sell shares in a company on the stock exchange, the price of each share goes up as it becomes more popular, or down as the shares are offloaded. A rising share price means increased confidence in the company.

Subjects

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