Rupert MURDOCH is “not a fit person” to run a major corporation in the wake of the phone-hacking scandal and the subsequent “cover-up”, a group of MPs have concluded in a scathing report into the conduct of his media empire News Corporation.
Members of the Commons Culture, Media and Sport Committee said they had been repeatedly misled by senior executives at the News of the World in their initial enquires into phone-hacking as they published the most damning indictment so far of the conduct of senior News Corp employees.
But Mr Murdoch hit back last night, with a statement from the company that condemned the report as “unjustified and highly partisan”.
There were clear signs the investigation fractured the committee along party lines, with every Conservative member withdrawing their support over the inclusion of the line stating Mr Murdoch is “not fit” to run a major company.
Labour MPs combined with the lone Liberal Democrat to push through a series of amendments on a 6-4 majority vote. Tory members said there was no evidence to support the statement and that such an assertion was far beyond the remit of the committee.
The charge is potentially hugely damaging for Mr Murdoch, however, as Ofcom continues its own assessment of whether News Corp is a “fit and proper person” to hold a UK broadcasting licence.
The political row also means David Cameron, who was called to the Commons on Monday to defend the close links between his Culture Secretary, Jeremy Hunt, and News Corp, finds his party being pushed further into the uncomfortable position of defenders of the Murdoch empire.
The Labour charge was led by committee member Tom Watson, who said: “We found News Corp carried out an extensive cover-up of its most rampant law-breaking. Its most senior executives repeatedly misled Parliament and the two men at the top – Rupert and James Murdoch – must now answer for that.
“In the view of the majority of committee members, Rupert Murdoch is not fit to run an international company like BSkyB.
He added: “These people corrupted our country. They brought shame on our police force and our Parliament. They lied, they cheated, blackmailed and bullied, and we should all be ashamed when we think how we cowered before them for so long.”
The report was published yesterday following a series of high-profile hearings last summer which saw James and Rupert Murdoch questioned along with a string of current and former employees.
The committee chairman, Conservative John Whittingdale, expressed concern the failure to agree a unanimous report would mean its impact was “diluted” but the MPs did agree to refer the matter to the Commons to consider whether there had been a contempt of Parliament, and what punishment should be imposed.
Mr Whittingdale stressed the MPs were unanimous that three former executives of News International – Les Hinton, Colin Myler and Tom Crone – misled Parliament in answers they had given.
Members also agreed it was “astonishing” that James and Rupert Murdoch did not have a better idea of what was happening but stopped short of suggesting they too had misled Parliament.
However Conservative Louise Mensch said she accepted they had produced a “partisan” report after Labour MPs sought to introduce extra wording “wildly outside” the scope of the inquiry.
All three former News Corp executives rejected the report’s findings. The company accepted there were “hard truths” within the report, but said some commentary was unjustified and highly partisan.
Comment: Page 12.