Rupert Murdoch report highlights

May 1, 2012

News Corp. chief Rupert Murdoch exhibited “willful blindness” toward the behavior of News of the World staffers in the lead-up to the British phone hacking scandal, according to a report released Tuesday by a committee of British legislators.

The report from a cross-party culture, media and sport committee is the product of a years-long investigation into allegations that the tabloid’s staff had for years been hacking into the phone messages of celebrities and crime victims in the pursuit of news scoops.

Here are some of the highlights from the report:

●The panel rejected Murdoch’s explanation that he was unaware that hacking was widespread at the News of The World, blaming his staff for keeping him in the dark, the AP reports.

The committee said that former News of The World editor and current New York Daily News editor Colin Myler, and the News of The World’s lawyer Tom Crone misled the committee about the extent of the hacking. “Both Tom Crone and Colin Myler deliberately avoided disclosing crucial information to the Committee and, when asked to do, answered questions falsely,” they wrote.

The AP reports that in a statement, Myler said he stood by his evidence and believed ongoing British police inquiries would “establish the truth” of his account. “I have always sought to be accurate and consistent in what I have said to the committee,” Myler said.

●The panel concluded that Les Hinton, a former executive chairman of News International, was “complicit” in a cover-up of wrongdoing at the media empire, the Guardian reports. The committee further condemned Hinton’s decision to provide severance pay to Clive Goodman, the former royal editor convicted of phone hacking in 2007.

“When Clive Goodman was dismissed in February 2007, Les Hinton made it clear that the company was not obliged to pay him anything, but was offering him a year’s salary in recognition of long service and the needs of his family,” the committee wrote. “We are astonished that a man convicted of a criminal offence during the course of his work should be successful in his attempt to seek compensation for his perfectly-proper dismissal. Illegally accessing voicemails is wrong and News International should have been willing to stand up in an employment tribunal and say so.”

●Rebekah Brooks, the former editor of the News of the World, is on bail after being arrested in connection with the phone hacking scandal in March.

She was on vacation during the 2002 run of stories about Milly Dowler, a murder victim and the subject of one of the News of The World’s alleged voicemail hacks, and she later claimed to have no knowledge of the tampering. Still, the committee said Brooks should accept responsibility for the newsroom culture that would allow phone hacking to take place:

“Impersonating members of a missing girl’s family; besieging an employment agency; falsely asserting cooperation with the police; falsely quoting the police; and, according to their own account, obtaining Milly Dowler’s mobile telephone number from her school friends are hardly the actions of a respectful and responsible news outlet. For those actions, and the culture which permitted them, the Editor should accept responsibility.”

Four Conservative panel members dissented from the committee’s opinion that Murdoch was unfit to lead News Corp, with Conservative panel member Philip Davies saying the conclusion was “not only over the top, but ludicrous,” the AP reports.

It’s unknown what impact the report would have on Murdoch’s U.S. properties, including the Wall Street Journal and Fox News, the AP notes. But the damage to Murdoch’s worldwide brand has already been extensive:

“A total of 43 people have been arrested by police investigating phone hacking, bribery and computer hacking. Murdoch has paid out millions to settle lawsuits from about 60 celebrities, sports stars, politicians and other public figures whose voicemails were hacked.”

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