Rupert Murdoch finally said “sorry” for the phone hacking scandal tonight, after another day of high drama, reports Left Foot Forward’s Shamik Das.
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• Rupert Murdoch finally said “sorry” for the phone hacking scandal tonight, after another day of high drama.
Mr Murdoch apologised in person to the family of Milly Dowler, “humbled and very shaken”, at long last recognising the damage done by the News of the World phone hacking scandal, and his company’s leaden footed response to it.
Dowler family solicitor Mark Lewis said:
“We told him that his papers should lead the way in setting the standard of honesty and decency in the field and not what had gone on before; at the end of the day actions speak louder than words.
“He was humbled, shaken and sincere. This was something that had hit him on a personal level. He apologised many times and held his head in his hands. I don’t think somebody could have held their head in their hands and said sorry so many times.”
Reflecting on the past week, Lewis added:
“It has been a big week for the Dowlers to hear people say they are sorry. Both on a political front – the deputy prime minister, the prime minister and the leader of the opposition – [and now] Rupert Murdoch…
“It is a question of forgive but not forget… they won’t necessarily forgive the people who intruded on their privacy.”
Following today’s mea culpa, Murdoch will issue an unprecedented series of apologies in the national papers, “for the serious wrongdoing that occurred” and “for the hurt suffered by the individuals affected”.
The ads will appear in tonight’s Standard, and in the weekend’s Independent on Sunday, Financial Times, Mail on Sunday, Metro, Observer, Sun, Sunday Telegraph, Sunday Times, Times, and Wall Street Journal Europe.
• The apology followed the resignation earlier this morning of News International chief executive Rebekah Brooks.
Having clung on stubbornly since news of the Milly Dowler hack broke, her resignation suddenly puts James Murdoch in the firing line, throwing into even sharper focus his role in the whole affair, past and present, and raising questions as to the future direction of the company in Britain and worldwide.
She will be succeeded by New Zealander Tom Mockridge, former economics editor of the Sydney Morning Herald and until today boss of Sky Italia, a man described as having “a strong journalistic background” and who “understands newspapers and the business of newspapers”, a “strong and competent manager”, “not very flappable”, and “hugely experienced”.
Brooks, alongside James and Rupert, will still face MPs on Tuesday at 2:30 to answer questions about the scandal – the latter two seemingly dragged kicking and screaming under summons having initially refused the culture, media and sport select committee’s request, behind the curve yet again, as they have been throughout the past 12 days.
It is not a hearing they will relish, having on Tuesday witnessed the police suffer the select committee screw, turned on the Met top brass to devastating effect by the home affairs committee, Assistant Commissioner John Yates and former AC Andy Hayman, latterly in the pocket of News International, made to look especially clownish; “more Clouseu than Columbo” indeed.
And it got worse for the police yesterday, following the revelation that the ninth man arrested in the criminal investigation into hacking, former NotW executive editor Neil Wallis, was on the Scotland Yard payroll from October 2009 to September 2010, earning £1,000 a day for two days a month work – trousering £24,000 of taxpayers’ money for God only knows what.
Wallis also dined with Yates and Met Commissioner Sir Paul Stephenson, who will be hauled in front of the home affairs committee on Tuesday at noon – just hours before the Murdoch Three are made to sweat.
• A new poll out today, broken exclusively on Left Foot Forward, shows four out of five voters want a review of Murdoch’s media outlets.
The poll, by Survation, also reveals 79 per cent say it is unfair for the sacked NotW workers to lose their jobs, 78% believe senior executives were aware of the Milly Dowler phone hacking, and 53% believe companies currently advertising in other NI titles like The Sun and The Times should stop doing so until the accusations have been fully investigated.
Of the politicians, 56% think David Cameron has “handled the controversies over hacking badly”, and 67% say his relationship with NI, Brooks and Andy Coulson have “affected his judgement”, while 66% say Ed Miliband (who has come of age in this crisis) has handled the issue either “well” or “adequately”, with 46% saying the same of Nick Clegg.
Yesterday, the deputy prime minister gave an impressive speech on reforming the media, focusing on press freedom, accountability and plurality. He criticised the Press Complaints Commission, saying it was no longer acceptable for the press to “act as judge, jury and executioner” over their own affairs, and compared hackgate to the expenses scandal for MPs and the financial crisis for the banks.
For his boss, the Coulson question, as evidenced by the poll findings, continues to detract from his belated leadership on the hacking scandal, the questions over who knew what about Coulson’s past and when dominating Prime Minister’s questions on Wednesday, the last PMQs of the session; relive the action here on Left Foot Forward.
Further afield, the net to close in on Murdoch’s operations in America and Australia, with questions being asked and his empire subject to greater scrutiny than ever before, unthinkable only two weeks ago.
In the States, the FBI have been called in to investigate claims the families of the victims of 9/11 were spied upon, with the Department of Justice being pressed into a full legal investigation of his activities in the US. As Left Foot Forward reported earlier today, legislators are looking at the possibility News Corp has broken the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act and the Wiretap Act, potentially leading to both criminal and civil cases.
And in his native Australia, prime minister Julia Gillard is considering whether to open a parliamentary inquiry into media practice and ownership. As this blog reported today, Murdoch’s Oz powerbase is immense; he owns seven of the 11 national dailies, 77% of the Sundays, two thirds of suburban news sheets, a big slice of the magazine market, and in Brisbane, Darwin, Hobart and Adelaide you can only buy a Murdoch newspaper.
As the old saying goes, the bigger they are, the harder they fall.
Progressives of the week:
Our Members of Parliament, who, almost to a man, stood up and spoke out against the once mighty Murdoch this week, expressing the disgust of constituents up and down the land at the phone hacking scandal, and forcing the tycoon to abandon his £7.8 billion News Corp/BSkyB takeover bid.
MPs on the culture, media and sport, and home affairs select committees will again have the chance to show who’s boss when Murdoch, Murdoch Jr. and Ms Brooks, and earlier Met Commissioner Sir Paul Stephenson appear before them on Tuesday.
Regressive of the week:
Again, so many Murdochites to choose from; they’re everywhere, from the News International bunker through the revolving door to Scotland Yard and Downing Street… too many to consider so let’s go straight to the top, Keith Rupert Murdoch, AC, KSG, who, though belatedly repentant, let it not be forgot stands accused of tax avoidance.
That’s right, the man who seeks to tell you how to vote, tells our government how to act, and whose papers routinely rail against ‘benefit scroungers’, reportedly pays next to nothing in taxes in this country.
Evidence of the week:
New figures from the Department of Health that show NHS waiting times have risen sharply since the election. In the 12 months from May 2010 to May 2011, the number of patients waiting more than 18 weeks for treatment increased by a third, up 6,902 from 20,662 to 27,564.
Shadow health secretary John Healey said the figures were “getting worse by the month”, adding:
“The NHS is starting to go backwards again under the Tories. Instead of concentrating efforts on improving services for patients, ministers have spent a wasted year forcing through their reckless and damaging NHS reorganisation.”
And on the impact of the coalition’s health reforms, Labour MP Debbie Abrahams wrote this week on Left Foot Forward:
“In spite of the NHS Future Forum’s recommendations, there are many reasons why this bill is still a threat to our NHS. As a starting point the government failed to recommit the full bill, leaving the Opposition unable to scrutinise how clauses in the amended bill would interact…
“This bill will be a disaster for the NHS. What the NHS needs is appropriate reform and proper accountability – but definitely not the opening up of the market.”
Ed Jacobs’s Week Outside Westminster:
As it reached the height of the loyalist marching season, Northern Ireland saw a week dominated by violence, leading to a blame game breaking out between the DUP and Sinn Fein over who was responsible.
For Sinn Fein, North Belfast MLA Gerry Kelly sought to blame unionists for provoking violence with an Orange Order parade continuing to march through Catholic areas of Belfast.
“If we didn’t have an Orange parade going through a Catholic area this wouldn’t have happened. I’ve made my situation clear condemning the violence but to say all the violence was down to the republican side would be a mistake.
“Applying for a parade after a determination had been made was a recipe for disaster. There was always going to be trouble. Without contentious Orange parades, we wouldn’t be having the conversation we’re having now.”
“There was undoubtedly a degree of orchestration. You don’t have petrol bombs just spontaneously appear. I think it’s very important that the police should say who is responsible. Dissidents were at the fore for organising the violence of the last couple of days.
“There was absolutely no violence on the loyalist side. It will be interesting to see if the police come out and clearly say it was dissident republicans and their hangers-on who were responsible for this violence.”
As ministers convened for emergency discussions on the violence, meanwhile, the first and deputy first ministers, Peter Robinson and Martin McGuinness, sought to put on a united front as their party colleagues engaged in the blame game.
In a joint statement they declared:
“Those involved in rioting must realise that it only results in damaging their local community. We would appeal for calm and ask everyone to think of the consequences of their actions.”
It was a big week for Wales, as David Cameron formally committed his government to supporting a commission on how Wales is funded, though failed to outline when it would begin.
Speaking to members of the Assembly at Cardiff Bay, the prime minister explained:
“It is clear there is no turning back from devolution – and nor should there be. But I believe that, along with this new level of power you now hold, should come new levels of accountability. So as we promised, we’ll establish a process similar to the Calman Commission in Scotland.
“The strength of Calman was that it worked by consensus: Conservatives, Labour and Liberal Democrats in Scotland coming together and agreeing a way forward. I am therefore asking the political parties to seek a consensus on the future direction of devolution.”
Plaid Cymru leader, Ieuan Wyn Jones, responded by expressing his concerns at how vague Mr Cameron’s statement was:
“The Tory-Lib Dem coalition has been in government in Westminster for over a year but we still don’t have any more clarity on this issue. Wales has been extremely patient in waiting for any substantial reaction to the Holtham Commission.
“Furthermore the UK government stated that it would set up a Calman-style commission in the event of a referendum yes vote here in Wales. We are now over four months on from that historic day but no closer to any way forward on the timetable or details of the commission.”
Meanwhile, first minister Carwyn Jones formally unveiled his government’s legislative priorities, with a commitment, amongst others, to introducing a system of presumed consent for organ donations.
Outlining the programme, he commented:
“Today I have set out my government’s legislative programme for the next five years. It is the most detailed programme of government ever presented to Assembly Members since the creation of the Assembly.
“From creating an education system that allows our children to reach their full potential, to getting the best value from our local authorities, we plan to use the new powers we have to create a Wales where there is social justice and where we can create opportunities for all our people.”
Andrew R T Davies, meanwhile, was elected the new leader of the Welsh Conservatives as shadow Welsh secretary Peter Hain argued for the use of the first-past-the-post system to elect all members of the Assembly.
“The only acceptable option given the AV referendum result is to have all AMs elected by first-past-the- post, and we believe that each of the 30 new constituencies should elect two AMs by that system.
“The case for AV at Westminster level was defeated, against my vote and my longstanding support, by a thumping vote for first-past-the-post. Every single part of Wales voted against AV.
“In Wales we shall be losing 25% of our representation at Westminster, while across Britain the reduction is 8%. We have been punished enough. In Scotland the decoupling of constituencies [where Westminster and Scottish Parliament seats now have different boundaries] has been disastrous.
“If that happened in Wales, you would be likely to have a situation where one Assembly seat straddled three parliamentary seats, with all the problems that causes.
“I think in retrospect we have to accept that we got it wrong when we set up the Assembly with a two-tier electoral system that has two kinds of AM, and it should now be changed. The Conservatives back first-past-the-post – they ran the No campaign in the AV referendum.”
David Cameron raised the stakes in the campaign over Scotland’s future by using an interview with the Spectator to hint that the UK government might just come forward with an early referendum on independence.
“I want to treat the first minister and his government with respect, I think it’s the right thing to do, but if the whole of the next few years becomes about tussling rather than governing, then there may be a moment where we have to say, OK, we need to answer this question properly.
“But I don’t think we’re there at the moment.”
Responding, a spokesman for first minister Alex Salmond warned Mr Cameron to keep out of Scotland’s affairs, arguing:
“David Cameron would do better to focus on the crisis at the top of his own government rather than sabre-rattle about interfering in the affairs of Scotland’s government.
“The people have spoken and given a powerful mandate for the policy detailed by the SNP in the election – the right to choose independence on the basis of one referendum, agreed by the Scottish parliament, towards the end of this Holyrood term.
“David Cameron should be focused on delivering the additional job-creating powers in the Scotland Bill that the SNP also set out in the election, and secured the strongest possible mandate for – which is a key test of his ‘respect agenda’ for Scotland.”
As the European Commission, meanwhile, announced proposals to reform the Common Fisheries Policy, Scotland’s Cabinet Secretary responsible for fisheries policy, Richard Lochhead, responded with mixed reactions.
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“I’m pleased that the meaningful conservation of stocks is set to be at the heart of a reformed CFP, with the ecological and economic madness of the discarding of marketable fish – currently enforced on our fishermen by the CFP – to be addressed.
“I am concerned, however, that a one-step move to a blanket ban on discards could prove counter-productive. Instead, we should be working with fishermen on practical measures that would stop these discarded fish being caught in the first place.
“There is also a huge threat to Scotland lurking within these proposals because, alarmingly, the Commission is advocating an expansion in the international trading of fishing quotas. Selling quota to Europe’s highest bidders will erode Scotland’s historic rights which in turn could spell doom for our fragile fishing communities.
“Our fishing rights would end up with faceless overseas-based multinationals, rather than in the hands of future generations of Scots fishermen.”