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Rupert Murdoch in “Unprecedented Firestorm” as U.K. Panel Finds Him Unfit to Run Global Media Empire

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A British parliamentary committee has issued a scathing report that finds Rupert Murdoch is “not a fit person” to run a major international media company because of how News Corp. handled its phone-hacking scandal. The Parliamentary Select Committee on Culture, Media and Sport said Murdoch and his son, James, showed “willful blindness” about the scale of phone hacking at the News of the World tabloid. The panel’s finding has prompted a U.S. watchdog group, Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington, to call on the Federal Communications Commission to revoke News Corp.'s 27 Fox broadcast licenses in the United States. We speak with David Leigh, investigations editor at The Guardian, the news outlet that first exposed the phone-hacking practices taking place within the Murdoch media empire. Leigh says the British panel's findings could threaten Murdoch’s media presence across the Atlantic: “People are now beginning to say, ’Doesn’t this bleed over into the man who runs Fox News and has all those TV outlets in the U.S.?’ If he’s not fit and proper person in Britain, he’s not a fit and proper person in the U.S., either.” [includes rush transcript]

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This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: A British parliamentary report has issued a scathing analysis that found Rupert Murdoch is, quote, “not a fit person” to run a major international media company. The finding comes after months of investigation into how Murdoch’s News Corp. handled its phone-hacking scandal. The Parliamentary Select Committee on Culture, Media and Sport said Murdoch and his son, James, showed, quote, “willful blindness” about the scale of phone hacking at the News of the World tabloid. Labour MP Tom Watson spoke soon after the report was released.

TOM WATSON: Powerful people were involved in a cover-up, and they still haven’t accepted responsibility. And after all of this, the story is not yet over. These people corrupted our country. They brought shame on our police force and our parliament. They lied and cheated, blackmailed and bullied, and we should all be ashamed when we think how we cowered before them for so long. But to really stop requires more than tokenistic retribution. It needs conclusive attribution. The very cornerstone of justice is that those really responsible are held to account, that the rich and powerful are as low in the face of the law as the most humble and weak. And everybody in the world knows who is responsible for the wrongdoing of News Corp.: Rupert Murdoch. More than any individual alive, he is to blame. Morally, the deeds are his. He paid the piper, and he called the tune. It is his company, his culture, his people, his business, his failures, his lies, his crimes, the price of profits and his power.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: That was Labour MP Tom Watson. The committee’s report found News Corp.’s, quote, “instinct throughout, until it was too late, was to cover up rather than seek out wrongdoing and discipline the perpetrators.” It went on to say, quote, “the whole affair demonstrates huge failings of corporate governance.” This is the chair of the parliamentary committee, John Whittingdale.

JOHN WHITTINGDALE: Corporately, the News of the World and News International had misled the committee repeatedly about the true extent and nature of the investigations that they claim to have carried out in relation to phone hacking and that they had failed to disclose documents which would have revealed the truth.

AMY GOODMAN: Rupert Murdoch responded to the committee’s report by saying it was, quote, “difficult to read.” But he said the company “has taken a long, hard and honest look at our past mistakes,” unquote. News Corporation issued a much stronger official statement in response to the parliamentary report, saying its, quote, “analysis of the factual record was followed by some commentary that we, and indeed several members of the committee, consider unjustified and highly partisan,” unquote.

Meanwhile, in the United States this week, the watchdog group Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington urged the Federal Communications Commission to revoke News Corp.’s 27 Fox broadcast licenses. It said the report showed Rupert and James Murdoch lack candor and are unfit to, quote, “hold positions of trust.” In a letter to the FCC, the group wrote, quote, “it is clear News Corp. has engaged in a pattern of misbehavior that disqualifies it from holding broadcast licenses,” unquote. The group also sent letters to members of Congress, asking them to hold hearings on whether Rupert and James Murdoch meet FCC character standards.

Fox News did not respond to our repeated requests for an interview yesterday. But we’re going to London now to David Leigh, investigations editor at The Guardian, the news outlet that first exposed the Murdoch media empire’s phone-hacking practices.

Welcome to Democracy Now!, David. Talk about the significance of this report.

DAVID LEIGH: Well, two rather dramatic things happened in quick succession. First of all, a few days ago, Rupert Murdoch himself was forced to appear before a judicial inquiry before a British judge and attempt to defend what he had done over phone hacking. And what he did was admit, in terms, that there had been a cover-up by News Corp. He rather spoiled the effect then by going on to blame the cover-up on everybody except himself and his son and to blame his underlings. But he did crucially admit News Corp. had perpetrated a massive cover-up.

A few days after that, this committee report came out by parliamentarians, which piled on—piled on the damage by pronouncing that Rupert Murdoch was not fit to run a company. And so, as a result of that, he has found himself in an unprecedented firestorm, really, because, first of all, he’s become very toxic in Britain now, which makes a change from the way that politicians used to cower in front of him. And secondly, his position, as you’ve heard, in the United States is now a little bit vulnerable. People are now beginning to say, “Doesn’t this bleed over into the man who runs Fox News and has all those TV outlets in the U.S.?” If he’s not a fit and proper person in Britain, he’s not a fit and proper person in the U.S., either.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: Well, David Leigh, I want to go to a clip of Rupert Murdoch testifying last week before the judicial inquiry into the phone-hacking scandal that rocked his now-defunct tabloid, News of the World. In this clip, he’s being questioned by inquiry chair Robert Jay.

ROBERT JAY: Did it stop with one individual, the one rogue reporter, or was it more prevalent? It was within News International’s power to ascertain that, wasn’t it?

RUPERT MURDOCH: I think the senior executives were all informed, and I—were all misinformed and shielded from anything that was going on there. And I do blame one or two people for that, that perhaps I shouldn’t name, because, for all I know, they may be arrested yet. But there’s no question in my mind that maybe even the editor, but certainly beyond that, someone took charge of a cover-up, which we were victim to and I regret.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: David Leigh, your response to this idea of walling off the senior executives from the mid-level management?

DAVID LEIGH: Well, there you hear Rupert Murdoch trying to blame everyone but him and his son for the cover-up. For anybody who knows what a close, hands-on operator Rupert Murdoch was, this is fairly risible. One of the problems that he’s got with this position that “these other people did a cover-up, but now we’re trying to clean up our act” is that the cover-up is still apparently going on. Both the parliamentarians’ committee and the Leveson judicial inquiry brought to light the fact that News Corp. is still refusing to allow the correspondence between their first set of lawyers and News Corp. to be released. When this whole thing started a couple of years ago, a News of the World reporter and a private detective were arrested, and the police attempted to raid the News of the World building and seize the documents and find out what had been going on and who had been involved in all the phone hacking. News of the World threw them out the building. They called in a firm of lawyers called Burton Copeland. And it appears they said, “Help us to tell the police nothing. Help us to block the police. Help us to cover this up.” And that firm of lawyers, Burton Copeland, they’ve still refused to let them release the correspondence. And that will show how high the cover-up went, right from the beginning. And because News Corp. are acting as though they’ve got something to hide, I think their position in the U.S. is a little bit vulnerable, because you protect yourself against the Department of Justice in these kind of investigations by saying, “We’ve cleaned up our act. We’ve called in outside lawyers. We’ve cut out the cancer.” But if you’re still covering up, doesn’t look good.

AMY GOODMAN: Not all members of the British Parliament agreed with the report condemning Murdoch. Conservative MP, member of the Culture, Media and Sport Committee, Louise Mensch, spoke against the report. This is a clip.

LOUISE MENSCH: No Conservative member on this committee with a vote was able to recommend the report itself to the House, and every one of us, while we share different views about the culpability of News Corporation and the degree of culpability of James Murdoch, in particular, none of us were able to support the report, and we all voted against it.

AMY GOODMAN: That’s Conservative MP Mensch. Your response, David Leigh?

DAVID LEIGH: Well, the Conservatives here have got a big problem, because they were very visibly in bed with Rupert Murdoch. And one of the things that’s come out that’s been hideously embarrassing to the British prime minister, David Cameron, is that he was going to Christmas parties only last Christmas at the home of the then-new chief executive of News International, the News Corp. division here, Rebekah Brooks, and James Murdoch was there, too. He’s sitting 'round the table with these people, pulling crackers and eating Christmas turkey. And there's a lot of evidence come to light that they helped wave through or try and wave through a bid for Rupert Murdoch to take over the whole of the satellite broadcaster here in England, BSkyB, which would have been a step towards importing Fox News, and all that goes with it, into Britain. So, the Prime Minister is really embarrassed about this. His Conservative troops are trying to line up behind him and protect him. He has got to appear, David Cameron, at the judicial inquiry later this month, where his intimate relations with Rupert Murdoch will come under very close scrutiny.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: And David Leigh, what about the revelations that have come out about the corruption within the police authorities in England, as well, related to News Corporation? What is happening on that front?

DAVID LEIGH: Well, there’s two levels to this. At one level, the police, like so many other institutions in Britain, have been running scared of Murdoch and the Murdoch press, and they have been trying to keep onside with them and do them favors. At another more operational level, the evidence is mounting that the—the journalists, Rupert Murdoch’s journalists, have been bribing police officers. A new police investigation that Scotland Yard is currently investigating in this, we’re expecting some arrests. That is going to be very, very serious, if they can prove that bribery has gone on, because if part of the News Corp. cover-up is that they have been corrupting foreign public officials, which is what a British police officer is, they become very vulnerable to investigations under the U.S. Foreign Corrupt Practices Act.

AMY GOODMAN: On May Day earlier this week, protesters gathered here in New York outside of News Corp. headquarters to call for Rupert Murdoch’s arrest. This is protester Michael Kink.

MICHAEL KINK: You’ve seen a lot of people talking about the horrible corporate ethics in this country. It’s one of the big problems with corporations having so much power, is that they don’t use it responsibly. The British Parliament yesterday said that Rupert Murdoch was unfit to head a major corporation. You know, he hacked the tax code here in America the same way he hacks phones in Britain. We think it’s wrong. We’re here to call him out. And we’re here to make it clear that the majority of people don’t want it to be like this.

AMY GOODMAN: That was protester Michael Kink outside News Corp. headquarters here in New York. David Leigh, how will the phone-hacking scandal affect News Corp.’s holdings in the United States? And what about this issue of arrests here?

DAVID LEIGH: Well, Rupert Murdoch is an American citizen. News Corp. is an American company. It’s—if it breaches the FCPA by bribing—by having a subsidiary bribing police officers, then it could be investigated by the Department of Justice. It could face big, big fines. I’m not sure whether the FCC in the U.S. is going to follow the route of the British TV regulator, called Ofcom, who is at the moment studying the whole question of whether this is a man and this is a company who ought to be allowed to have TV licenses. There’s a growing feeling that, you know, he’s such a rogue, he’s such a villain, that he didn’t ought to be allowed.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: Well, you know, I’m always amazed here in the United States, of course, you must—you must have heard about the continuing debate over whether a corporation is a person, and most of our courts have decided that corporations are people. But in these kinds of instances, it appears that a corporation is many people, because they always manage to fire the particular, quote, “bad apples” and move on as a corporation, pay a fine and continue to exist. So, a corporation is not only a person in the United States, it’s a person with multiple personalities that it can discard when convenient, and never the person of the corporation be held accountable for its acts. It’s always the executives who get fired or jailed. I’m wondering, this debate in England—is there an ongoing debate there, as well, as to whether a corporation is a person?

DAVID LEIGH: Well, I think that this exemplifies it. We have a saying in Britain that when things go wrong, deputy heads will roll. And that’s certainly what we’ve seen at News Corp. The findings of the committee were twofold, in fact. They said both that News Corp., corporately, as a corporate person, was guilty of willful blindness and a cover-up, as well as the personal individual responsibility of James Murdoch, Rupert’s son, for willful blindness, and the responsibility of Rupert Murdoch for the whole culture of the company. So, I think it really is important to personalize this, because, as Tom Watson said at the beginning in your clip, you know, this is Murdoch’s company. This is a creature of Rupert Murdoch. It’s not simply, you know, a creature of its stockholders. It’s something that—the story of Rupert Murdoch’s life is this dirty way in which his corporations behaved.

AMY GOODMAN: I mean, it’s astounding the report said that Rupert Murdoch is not a fit person to exercise the stewardship of a major international company. Do you see this, finally, in Britain and in the United States getting larger?

DAVID LEIGH: Well, it’s difficult in Britain to see how it could get larger. I mean, when we started out on this road in The Guardian two years ago, when we first exposed, you know, to massive hostility, the fact that there had been a cover-up over phone hacking, we never dreamed it would get this far, because Rupert Murdoch seemed to have such a lock on the political class in this country, and I mean not just the present Conservative government but the previous Labour government of Tony Blair. Everybody seemed to be running scared of him because he had so much media power. In America, I’m sure people aren’t quite so scared, but I’m not sure whether they understand the full dimensions of the crimes that have been revealed in the U.K., and there are more crimes to come.

AMY GOODMAN: David Leigh, we want to thank you for being with us, investigations editor at The Guardian, the news outlet that first exposed the Murdoch media empire’s phone-hacking practices. This is Democracy Now! We’ll be back in 30 seconds.

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