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Murdoch unfit to run global company, say UK lawmakers

Labour lawmaker and Murdoch critic Tom Watson was among those launching the report in London (© 2009 AFP)

Rupert Murdoch is not fit to lead a major global company, British lawmakers said in a scathing report Tuesday, accusing him of “wilful blindness” over the News of the World phone-hacking scandal.

Parliament’s influential culture committee said Murdoch’s US-based News Corporation media empire had misled lawmakers and added that the 81-year-old tycoon and his son James should take corporate responsibility.

News Corp. said the comments on Australian-born Murdoch were “unjustified and highly partisan” and pointed out that the committee itself was split on whether to include the remarks.

The long-awaited report was the result of hearings that started shortly after the News of the World, Britain’s biggest selling and most controversial newspaper, shut last July amid public outrage.

“Rupert Murdoch is not a fit person to exercise the stewardship of a major international company,” concluded the 121-page report.

“News International and its parent News Corporation exhibited wilful blindness, for which the companies’ directors — including Rupert Murdoch and James Murdoch — should ultimately be prepared to take responsibility.”

The report was unanimous in singling out three ex-Murdoch aides — former News International executive chairman Les Hinton, News of the World editor Colin Myler and legal manager Tom Crone — for deliberately misleading parliament.

But it was divided on whether to include the comments on Murdoch.

Four committee members from Prime Minister David Cameron’s Conservative party refused to approve them, but five opposition Labour members joined forces with the sole Liberal Democrat member to push them through.

Conservative committee member Louise Mensch said the report would “correctly be seen as ‘partisan’” and that it had “lost a very great deal of its credibility”.

Rupert Murdoch later admitted in a message to News International staff that the report made for difficult reading.

“For all of us — myself in particular — it is difficult to read many of the report’s findings,” Murdoch told staff in an email.

“But we have done the most difficult part, which has been to take a long, hard and honest look at our past mistakes.”

A News Corp. statement said the panel had highlighted some “hard truths” and that the company had “acted on the failings documented in the report”.

“News Corporation regrets, however, that the Select Committee’s analysis of the factual record was followed by some commentary that we, and indeed several members of the committee, consider unjustified and highly partisan,” it said.

News Corp. shares were up 1.61 percent at $19.92 in afternoon trading in New York.

Hinton, a Murdoch aide for almost half a century who resigned as head of News Corp.’s Dow Jones unit last year, Myler, who is now editor of the New York Daily News, and Crone all rejected the panel’s findings.

Murdoch shut the News of the World in July 2011 as the phone-hacking scandal exploded with revelations that the tabloid had accessed the voicemails of a murdered schoolgirl.

Rupert and James, 39 — who quit as executive chairman of News International in February — both gave evidence to the committee on July 19. Murdoch senior was attacked with a shaving foam pie by a comedian during the hearing.

The 121-page report released on Tuesday accused News International of instinctively trying to “cover up rather than seek out wrongdoing and discipline the perpetrators”.

“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,” it said.

While it did not directly accuse the Murdochs of misleading the committee, it had harsh words for the Australian-born tycoon.

“If at all relevant times Rupert Murdoch did not take steps to become fully informed about phone hacking, he turned a blind eye and exhibited wilful blindness to what was going on in his companies and publications,” it said.

Murdoch himself had pinned the blame on Myler and Crone when he appeared before a separate judicial inquiry in London last week, saying that he too was the victim of a “cover-up” at the News of the World.

Murdoch’s empire still comprises The Sun, The Times and the Sunday Times newspapers in Britain, and the Wall Street Journal and Fox News in the United States.

Phone hacking at the News of the World came to the fore in the trial of its royal correspondent Clive Goodman and Glenn Mulcaire, a private investigator, who were jailed in 2007 for illegally accessing voicemails.

Scotland Yard reopened an investigation in January 2011 and more than 40 people have been arrested. News International has paid millions of pounds in compensation to hacking victims.

Signature : Robin Millard LONDON (AFP)

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