“We conclude, therefore, that Rupert Murdoch is not a fit person to exercise the stewardship of a major international company.”
But the report’s authors are riven along party lines over this conclusion, which was inserted by Labour MP Tom Watson. Despite agreeing to several other conclusions, four Conservative members voted against the report as a whole because they could not agree with Watson’s addition regarding Murdoch.
“It was stuck in on the basis of no evidence whatsoever,” committee member Louise Mensch, a Conservative MP, told a remarkable press conference. “We all felt that was wildly outside the scope of a select committee. It will correctly be seen as a partisan report. It’s not for this committee to advise News Corp shareholders.”
The headline-grabbing line was proposed by MP Tom Watson, the most dogged of News Corp’s parliamentary pursuers, who is publishing a book on the whole affair, and who said: “More than any individual alive, he (Rupert Murdoch) is to blame.”
Due to the disagreement, the committee is referring the report up for endorsement by the House Of Commons itself.
Committee member Damian Collins, a Conservative, said the matter of Murdoch’s fitness should be left to UK media regulator Ofcom, which is deliberating whether BSkyB and News Corp are fit to hold a broadcasting license.
The committee concluded unanimously it had been misled by former News International and Dow Jones CEO Les Hinton, former News Of The World legal manager Tom Crone, former News Of The World editor Colin Myler and by News International corporately.
It did not find evidence it had been misled by Rupert or James Murdoch. But it does make a slur on James’ executive abilities whilst he helmed News International: “We are astonished that James Murdoch did not seek more information … this clearly raises questions of competence on the part of News International’s then Chairman and Chief Executive.” That line was voted against by just two of the 10 committee members.
What happens next
Don’t bet on this ending any time soon:
- Committee chair John Whittingdale conceded matters are now in uncharted waters. Perjury charges for misleading parliament cannot be ruled out.
- Accountability to parliament. “There is precedent for an offender to be called before the House (Of Commons) and be admonished,” Whittingdale said.
- Despite not being unanimously agreed, the slur on Rupert’s fitness may play negatively with News Corp shareholders.
- James has already stepped back from several related board seats in an early attempt at damage control.