Remember our post on the two faces of Rupert Murdoch, presented without comment, in which we compared the mogul’s letter to News Corporation in July 2011 to comments caught on tape during a meeting with the Sun staff in February this year? With the tapes resulting in Murdoch yet again being summoned to appear before the Culture, Media and Sport Select Committee and investigated by the police, we thought it high time we added some comment:
Former Conservative MP Louise Mensch, who questioned Rupert Murdoch as a member of the Commons Culture Select Committee, dismissed the significance of these tapes earlier this week saying ‘there really is nothing there’. What she failed to recognise – or remember – is that the epicentre of the scandal and public scrutiny of James and Rupert Murdoch concerned allegations of cover up. In other words, it was what the Murdochs did or did not know about widespread criminality within their stables which mattered, from a public interest perspective, more than the individual crimes and misdemeanours themselves.
This is self-evident. If it became known that the Murdochs did know about criminality and did nothing about it – effectively sanctioning it – then they would likely be in handcuffs along with their underlings. Not surprising then, the select committee’s focus on this question of what the Murdochs knew and when. In this respect, their testimony to the Select Committee was startlingly contradicted by Tom Crone, former News of the World legal adviser, who described the Murdochs’ insistence that they knew nothing about widespread corrupt practices as a ‘shameful lie’.
At this point one thing was clear – either the Murdochs were lying and should face criminal proceedings or they were utterly inept and ineffectual, presiding over decades of widespread illegal activity without so much as a whiff of what was going on. No wonder then, that the Select Committee itself found Rupert Murdoch to be an ‘unfit’ person to run an international company. Unfortunately, Ofcom did not reach the same conclusion in considering whether Murdoch was sufficiently ‘fit and proper’ to hold a controlling share in a broadcast license.
Yet here is Mr Murdoch saying that the criminality at his papers amounted to ‘next to nothing’; that it had been going for ‘a hundred years’ and that in regards to corrupt payments to police, he personally learned about this practice when he ‘first bought the News of the World’. Louise Mensch disregards the fact that this substantiates what many of her former colleagues on the Select Committee believed but could not prove – that Murdoch knew much more than he said he did.
Labour MP and former culture secretary Ben Bradshaw has this week urged Ofcom to review its verdict of Murdoch’s ‘fit and proper’ status. It is evident from these tapes that he at best misled Parliament, and effectively sanctioned widespread criminality at his newspapers. Apparently Murdoch believes this was acceptable because it was ‘being done across Fleet Street’. What he fails to recognise is that everybody was doing it because owners like him were effectively sanctioning it. If we are to attach any responsibility to an owner who controls more than a third of our national newspapers along with the satellite television platform, then ensuring that his newspapers abide by the law must surely be a starting point.