In a withering verdict, somewhat overshadowed by a public row over allegations of “partisanship”, a high-power committee of MPs which investigated the News of the World phone-hacking scandal on Tuesday declared Rupert Murdoch as “not a fit person to exercise the stewardship of a major international company” and accused his British media group News International of instigating a “cover-up” and “misleading” Parliament.
The committee whose televised grilling of a stuttering Mr. Murdoch last summer was watched by millions of people around the world said: “Corporately, the News of the World and News International misled the committee about the true nature and extent of the internal investigations they professed to have carried out in relation to phone hacking; by making statements they would have known were not fully truthful; and by failing to disclose documents which would have helped expose the truth.”
The findings were seen as a blow to Mr. Murdoch's bid to acquire full control of the satellite broadcaster BSkyB in which his flagship company News Corp has a 39-per-cent stake. There were suggestions that the media regulator Ofcom, which is looking into the bid, could seize on the committee's report to strip Mr. Murdoch of even his existing stake in Sky. Tory MPs disowned the report calling it “partisan” and accusing their Labour and Liberal Democrat colleagues of exceeding their brief to comment on Mr. Murdoch's suitability to run a major corporation.
The committee appeared to be in a shambles as rival party MPs publicly clashed over its main conclusion.
Tory MP Louise Mensch said it had undermined the credibility of the report.
“We all thought that was wildly outside the scope of a select committee, was an improper attempt to influence Ofcom and to tread on areas that are not the province of a select committee,” she said while party colleague Philip Davies accused Labour MPs of “getting carried away”.
In less contentious findings, the committee rejected Mr. Murdoch's claim that he was not aware of the scale of the scandal. It concluded that he along with his son James, ex-chairman of News International, should “ultimately be prepared to take responsibility” for exhibiting “wilful blindness” to wrongdoings on their patch. This was a reference to claims that the hacking was confined to a lone “rogue” reporter, the paper's Royal Editor Clive Goodman jailed in 2007 for hacking the phones of the royal family.
Rupert and James Murdoch were personally cleared of lying to the MPs on the issue, but their three senior executives including a former NoW editor, Colin Myler, were referred to the House of Commons for misleading the committee.
News Corporation said it was “carefully reviewing” the report. “The company fully acknowledges significant wrongdoing at News of the World and apologises to everyone whose privacy was invaded.” it said.