Parliament delivers stinging verdict on Murdoch

MPs investigating the News of the World phone-hacking scandal have reached an unexpectedly damning verdict: Rupert Murdoch is ‘not a fit person’ to run an international company.

Two years ago, Rupert Murdoch seemed untouchable. With a media empire stretching across five continents, the ruthless tycoon ranked as the 13th most powerful person in the world. By injecting sex, risk and scandal into a sober media culture, he had single-handedly transformed the newspaper industry. When his reporters attacked, they went for the kill – and proud politicians cowered before him.

But something was rotten: allegations mounted that reporters on Murdoch’s flagship UK paper had been hacking the phones of celebrities. Laws had been broken, media ethics trampled upon. In July 2011 the accusations hit home, and the mighty News of the World was shut down. The scandal-merchants became the scandal.

Since those dramatic events, a committee of British MPs have grilled Rupert Murdoch and his closest associates. In contrast to the Murdoch press’ sensational coups, Britain’s venerable parliament has been slow, thorough and methodical.

But their report, released this week, is no less potent for being slow-roasted. Top employees of Murdoch’s company, News Corp, are accused of misleading parliament; Murdoch’s son is charged with ‘wilful ignorance.’ But the most striking verdict of all is the on the media mogul himself.

‘One man is to blame,’ said Tom Watson, the committee’s theatrical ringleader: ‘Rupert Murdoch. His company, his failures, his crimes, his profits and power.’ He is, says the report, ‘unfit’ to lead an international company.

These words will echo around the world – including in America, where Murdoch’s most profitable news organisations are based. The FBI are monitoring the situation. Some predict that it could spell the beginning of the end for the world-conquering entrepreneur.

But he still has friends. Though the verdict has majority support, Conservatives on the parliamentary committee have rejected it. Already Murdoch has struck back, calling the report’s attacks ‘unjustified and partisan.’ He will not go down without a fight.

News corpse?

Tom Watson has compared Rupert Murdoch to a Mafia boss, and many agree. He treated the rules of law, ethics and common decency with total disregard, they say. And for this cynical attitude, he was rewarded with the ear of statesmen worldwide. Nobody should be allowed to gather such monstrous power without being held to account.

A single Murdoch paper crossed the line, cry his supporters – is that really so unforgivable? He is a bold, ambitious man, willing to take enormous risks for the sake of hard-hitting journalism. Public life needs more of that, they say, not less. Without him, journalism would consist of colourless articles obediently reporting dull to-and-fros in parliament. Politicians might want that, but we should not.

You Decide

  1. Are recklessness and disrespect for tradition good qualities?
  2. Are leaders always responsible for things that happen under their watch?

Activities

  1. Read another article fromThe Dayand rewrite it in the style of a Murdoch tabloid – jokes, puns, scandal and lots of personal opinion.
  2. The history of newspapers is full of brilliant characters and larger than life press-barons. Choose one from history, and make a short presentation to your class about their life.

Some People Say...

“It would be a dull world if everybody was decent and played by the rules.”

What do you think?

Q & A

What does Murdoch stand to lose?
The most concrete threat he faces is from broadcasting regulator Ofcom, who are currently investigating whether News International (News Corp’s UK subsidiary) is a ‘fit and proper’ owner of broadcasting company BSkyB. Some are predicting that if the judgement goes against Murdoch, he could pull out of the UK altogether.
Does that mean Sky and all his papers would disappear?
Most likely they would be bought by other businessmen, although some might go under. Either way, it would be an earthquake in the media landscape: Murdoch boughtThe News of the World in 1968, and since acquiring The Times in 1981 he has dominated the newspaper industry. He is among the most powerful forces in British public life; if he disappeared from it, politics and the media could change entirely.

Word Watch

Committee
The big debates in the main chamber of the House of Commons are only one small part of what MPs do. ‘Select committees’ are another: groups of 11 or more politicians from all parties who deliberate on important matters. They interview people from inside and outside parliament, gather evidence and produce lengthy reports – this one, for instance, had 121 pages!
Sensational coups
The News of the World’s ‘Fake Sheikh,’ for instance, claimed to have put over 100 criminals behind bars by dressing up as a wealthy Middle Eastern aristocrat and duping them into revealing incriminating details about themselves.
Venerable parliament
The English Parliament developed from the Magna Carta of 1215, when rebellious barons forced King John to agree to seek their approval in important matters. Although it is not the oldest parliament – that honour belongs to Iceland’s ‘althing’ – it is often called the ‘mother of all parliaments.’ Mostly because of the British Empire, many political systems throughout the world are based on its model.

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