Did anybody seriously believe former News International chairman Les Hinton’s promise to the UK parliament, in 2007, that illegal phone-hacking at News of the World was the action of a single “rogue reporter”? Seems the parliamentarians themselves did, which is bad news for Rupert Murdoch, because Hinton now heads up the Wall Street Journal, and the Sun and Sunday Times have just been implicated in further illegal activities. Eina. By KEVIN BLOOM.
How long could Rupert keep his finger in the dyke? Not so long, it seems; after only a few days the walls started crumbling, and today, 12 July, the brackish waters seriously started to flood the once-peaceful valley. With revelations in the Guardian that reporters from the Sun and Sunday Times illegally accessed former Prime Minister Gordon Brown’s family medical records, legal files, and bank account, News International’s claim last week that the wrongdoing was limited to a few employees at one newspaper (News of the World, now dead) has been blown apart. The breach in Murdoch’s defenses has also washed across the Atlantic; it appears that Les Hinton, the man who runs the New York-based Dow Jones & Co, operators of the Wall Street Journal, lied to a British parliamentary committee in 2007.
Since both of these revelations are sure to spin out into consequences for News Corp in the weeks and months ahead, it’s probably better to deal with them one at a time. First the Brown bombshell, which according to the Guardian’s Nick Davies and David Leigh further implicates the News of the World, but more significantly (seeing as these titles haven’t yet been folded), the Sunday Times and Sun. Just three quotes from the investigative report should tell us all we need to know:
“Abbey National bank found evidence suggesting that a ‘blagger’ acting for the Sunday Times on six occasions posed as Brown and gained details from his account.”
“London lawyers Allen & Overy were tricked into handing over details from [Brown’s] file by a conman working for the Sunday Times.“
“Details from [Brown’s] infant son’s medical records were obtained by the Sun, who published a story about the child’s serious illness.”
Then there’s the Hinton connection, where Reuters has the scoop. “Les Hinton was adamant,” the report begins. “Asked in 2007 by a British parliamentary committee whether the News of the World had ‘carried out a full, rigorous internal inquiry’ into the use of illegal phone hacking by the newspaper and was ‘absolutely convinced’ it was limited to a single reporter, Hinton did not hesitate.
“‘Yes, we have,’ the then-executive chairman of News of the World’s owner News International told the select committee, ‘and I believe he was the only person, but that investigation, under the new editor, continues.’”
Photo: News International Chairman James Murdoch leaves the company headquarters in Wapping, London July 11, 2011. Britain asked on Monday for fresh regulatory advice over the bid by Rupert Murdoch’s News Corp to buy BSkyB , signalling it could be looking for a way out of approving the deal while a phone hacking scandal rages. REUTERS/Olivia Harris.
Ouch. Especially considering that, as head of News International from 1995 until 2007, Hinton was boss of former News of the World editors Rebekah Brooks (shortly to be arrested?) and Andy Coulson (already arrested). The Reuters report suggests that Hinton could well be the next high-profile casualty in the scandal, and quotes the Guardian in its belief that he may have been directly responsible for News International’s culture of unethical journalism, as well as for the “rogue reporter” defense.
As for the elder Murdoch’s relationship with Hinton, Reuters avers that as much as he loves the man – a lot, it seems, although not as much as he loves Brooks or Wall Street Journal editor Robert Thomson – he will not let that love compromise the future of his US flagship newspaper. According to a Reuters source, Hinton has avoided travel to Britain this year so as not to draw unwanted attention to himself; the flood of revelations initiated by the Guardian last Monday changes all that. If Hinton is called by the British authorities to answer for his bald-faced lies to parliament in 2007, he faces a double bind: travel to the UK with the very real prospect of arrest on landing; don’t travel and further sully the name of the formerly respectable Wall Street Journal. So while Hinton may be one of Murdoch’s trusted consiglieri – while he may even have brought the chief his sandwiches in the early days – it’s likely he will have to fall on his sword. And it’s conceivable that Murdoch has put through the phone-call already: “Go to London, take the heat, we’ve got your back when all this blows over.”
That Murdoch believes the scandal will indeed blow over is revealed in his latest tactical maneuver: the announcement that he will not, as previously promised, spin off Sky News if the bid to gain control of BSkyB goes through. What this means is that the deal has to now be approved by the British Competition Commission – a process that could take six months to a year. Labeled by lawyers a “clever tactic” and “smart move,” it foregoes the assurance that editorial independence won’t be an issue for the extra time offered by the adjudication process.
But if Guardian commentator George Monbiot is to be believed, the effects of this scandal – unlike the countless others Murdoch has weathered through the years – will be felt for decades to come. Writes Monbiot: “The scandal radically changes public perceptions of how politics works, the danger corporate power presents to democracy, and the extent to which it has compromised and corrupted the Metropolitan police, who have now been dragged in so deep they are beginning to look like Murdoch’s private army. It has electrified a dozy parliament and subjected the least accountable and most corrupt profession in Britain – journalism – to belated public scrutiny.”
Conclusion: for the first time in almost twenty years the British citizenry are remembering what it means to flex their own muscles, and they’ll be less than willing to allow Murdoch to paralyse them again. DM
Photo: News Corporation CEO Rupert Murdoch holds a copy of The Sun as he is driven away from his flat in central London July 11, 2011. The British government has asked the media regulator to reassess media baron Rupert Murdoch’s takeover bid for broadcaster BSkyB in the light of a phone hacking scandal, a move that could provide a basis to block the multi-billion dollar buyout. REUTERS/Luke MacGregor.
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