By ALAN COWELL and JOHN F. BURNS
After months of investigation into hacking at Rupert Murdoch’s newspapers in Britain, a panel concluded on Tuesday that the media tycoon had shown a “willful blindness” toward wrongdoing.
Rupert Murdoch 'not a fit person' to lead News Corp - MPs
Rupert Murdoch "is not a fit person to exercise the stewardship of a major international company", MPs have said.The culture committee questioned journalists and bosses at the now-closed News of the World, as well as police and lawyers for hacking victims.
Its report has concluded that Mr Murdoch exhibited "wilful blindness" to what was going on in News Corporation.
But the committee was split six to four with Tory members refusing to endorse the report and branding it "partisan".
Conservative Louise Mensch called it "a real great shame" that the report's credibility had potentially been "damaged" as a result, with the report carried by Labour and Lib Dem members backing it.
News Corp said in a statement it was "carefully reviewing" the report and would "respond shortly", adding: "The company fully acknowledges significant wrongdoing at News of the World and apologises to everyone whose privacy was invaded."
'A blind eye' The BBC News Channel's chief political correspondent Norman Smith said the report was much more damning than had been anticipated.
He said the "crunch" statement was that Rupert Murdoch was "not a fit person", adding: "This is a blow to the very heart of the Murdoch empire. They are questioning his integrity, his honesty."
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It will give ammunition to those News Corporation shareholders who would like to loosen the hold over the company of the Murdoch dynasty”
The committee of MPs began its inquiry in July 2011 in the wake of fresh revelations about the extent of hacking at the tabloid newspaper, with reported victims including the murdered schoolgirl Milly Dowler and the families of victims of the 7/7 London bombings.It heard evidence from Mr Murdoch and his son James, and has now concluded that the notion that a hands-on proprietor like Rupert Murdoch had "no inkling" that wrongdoing was widespread at the News of the World was "simply not credible".
It noted that the newspaper mogul had "excellent powers of recall and grasp of detail when it suited him", and added: "On the basis of the facts and evidence before the committee, we conclude that, 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."
Tory MPs objected specifically to the line branding Mr Murdoch "not fit", with one, Philip Davies, telling a press conference the committee had seen "absolutely no evidence" to endorse such a "completely ludicrous" conclusion.
The committee also criticised three former News International executives - one-time executive chairman Les Hinton, former News of the World editor Colin Myler and former legal manager Tom Crone - accusing them of giving misleading evidence.
Mr Myler, who is now editor of the New York Daily News, said he had "always sought to be accurate and consistent" in his evidence.
"The conclusions of the committee have, perhaps inevitably, been affected by the fragmented picture which has emerged from the various witnesses over successive appearances," he said.
Foam attack News Corp as a whole was guilty of "huge failings of corporate governance" and, throughout, its instinct had been "to cover up rather than seek out wrongdoing and discipline the perpetrators", the committee said.
And it concluded: "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; by making statements they would have known were not fully truthful; and by failing to disclose documents which would have helped expose the truth."
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- Leveson Inquiry - judicial probe into press standards, investigating the extent of unlawful or improper conduct at News International and other newspaper groups. It will also examine the original police probe into phone hacking
- Operation Weeting - police investigation into alleged phone-hacking at News of the World
- Operation Elveden - police investigation into inappropriate payments to officers
- Operation Tuleta - police investigation into allegations of computer hacking
- Civil action by alleged hacking victims. Thousands of potential victims identified and several, including singer Charlotte Church, already awarded damages
The committee raised the possibility of a vote in the House of Commons about whether witnesses had been in contempt of Parliament, and if so, what punishment should be imposed.It said it would table a motion inviting the House to endorse its conclusions.
James Murdoch told the committee last summer that he did not see an email which suggested that hacking was more widespread at the paper than previously acknowledged - a claim disputed by Mr Myler and Mr Crone in their evidence.
On that matter, the report concluded that James Murdoch was "consistent" in relation to the so-called "For Neville" email, but he had demonstrated "wilful ignorance" about what had been going on, which "clearly raises questions of competence" on his part.
James Murdoch has insisted he did not know about any wrongdoing at the News of the World, but took "his share" of responsibility for not uncovering it earlier.
He gave evidence alongside his father Rupert, who at one point during the hearing was attacked by a man who rushed forward from the public gallery and threw a paper plate of foam at him.
'Shielded' The committee also said former News of the World editor Rebekah Brooks must "accept responsibility" for presiding over a culture at the News of the World that led to journalists impersonating members of Milly Dowler's family and hacking the teenager's phone.
And it criticised Director of Public Prosecutions Keir Starmer and former Acting Deputy Commissioner at the Metropolitan Police John Yates for failing to ensure hacking claims were properly investigated.
After initially claiming malpractice was limited to one "rogue" reporter at the News of the World, News International has now settled dozens of civil cases admitting liability for hacking between 2001 and 2006.
More than 6,000 possible victims have been identified and the police have so far made a number of arrests in connection with an investigation reopened in January 2011 - although no charges have yet been brought.
Media regulator Ofcom is currently looking into that issue, and reacting to the report, a spokesman said: "Ofcom has a duty under the Broadcasting Acts 1990 and 1996 to be satisfied that any person holding a broadcasting licence is, and remains, fit and proper to do so.
David Cameron's official spokesman said the government would consider the report's findings.
Asked whether the prime minister regarded Rupert Murdoch as a fit person to run a media company, he said: "That is a matter for the regulatory authorities, not for the government."
Lib Dem Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg said politicians should not "second guess" Ofcom's conclusion.
The hacking revelations led to the closure of the News of the World and the government's decision to set up a judicial inquiry into press standards headed by Lord Leveson.
Appearing before the Leveson Inquiry last week, Rupert Murdoch said there had been a "cover-up" which "shielded" senior figures at the paper and its parent company - including himself and his son James - from knowledge of wrongdoing taking place.