Calling Australian media magnate Rupert Murdoch unfit to lead a major corporation, a panel of British lawmakers on Tuesday charged him with having “exhibited willful blindness” toward illegal phone hacking at his now-defunct News of the World tabloid.
The 121-page report from the British Parliament’s select committee on culture, media and sport had not been expected to threaten Murdoch’s leadership so directly, and reflects persistent public anger at revelations last summer that News Corp. employees hacked the phones of a missing 13-year-old girl and relatives of slain British soldiers, in addition to celebrities and politicians.
News Corp. “acknowledges significant wrongdoing at News of the World and apologizes to everyone whose privacy was invaded,” the company said in a response.
The House of Commons will have to decide how to punish three News Corp. executives (besides Murdoch and his son, James) that it says gave misleading or false testimony: Colin Myler, an ex-News of The World editor who is now editor-in-chief at the New York Daily News; Tom Crone, the British tabloid’s lawyer; and Les Hinton, former executive chairman of News International, Murdoch’s U.K. newspaper arm.
“Rupert Murdoch did not take steps to become fully informed about phone-hacking, he turned a blind eye and exhibited willful blindness to what was going on in his companies and publications,” reads the report, which was passed on a party-line 6-4 vote, Conservatives opposing the harsh language used toward Murdoch. “This culture, we consider, permeated from the top throughout the organisation and speaks volumes about the lack of effective corporate governance at News Corporation and News International. We conclude, therefore, that Rupert Murdoch is not a fit person to exercise the stewardship of a major international company.”
But even if the new report might imperil the Murdoch family’s prospects for indefinite, unlimited power at the helm of News Corp., the media corporation is unlikely to have its licenses revoked by the Federal Communications Commission here in the United States.
“Based on everything that I know, all that was in another country,” said Reed Hundt, FCC chairman for several years under President Bill Clinton. “And besides, the facts are cold and dead. I don’t see any risk to the Fox licenses,” he added, referring to News Corp.’s conservative American cable network.
Michael Copps, FCC commissioner under George W. Bush and the only member of the commission to vote against Comcast’s merger with NBC Universal last year, was more bullish, expressing hope the U.S. might take action.
“At a minimum, something like this should be a wake-up call for the FCC to get serious about re-licensing,” he said.