The Murdoch empire was compared to the mafia when James Murdoch reappeared before the culture, media and sport select committee today, reports Shamik Das.
The Murdoch empire was compared to the mafia when James Murdoch reappeared before the culture, media and sport select committee today.
He was asked by Tom Watson whether he had heard of the term “omerta”, accused of being a “mafia boss” and of running a “criminal enterprise”; Mr Murdoch responded by calling the comparison “offensive” and “not true”, and described the News International phone hacking scandal as “a matter of great regret”.
“Have you ever heard the term omerta? The mafia term that they use for the code of silence?…
“Would you agree that it means a group of people who are bound together by secrecy who together pursue their group’s business objectives, with no regard for the law, using intimidation, corruption and general criminality.
“Would you agree with me that this is an accurate description of News International in the UK?”
“There are allegations of phone hacking, computer hacking, conspiring to pervert the course of justice, perjury, facing this company, and all this happened without your knowledge?
“Mr Murdoch, you must be the first mafia boss in history who didn’t know he was running a criminal enterprise.”
Later in the session, Watson presented evidence that MPs including himself had been targeted by Rebekah Brooks, evidence from a senior former employee of News International, who had asked to remain anonymous because “they are frightened about the consequences”.
“In relation to the original inquiry and members of this committee, “the diktat went out, you know, dig up as much information as you can on the members of the committee”; do you know who might have sent out that diktat?…
“He said to me about Rebekah Brooks, “she didn’t like you at all (that’s me), she took an absolute pathological dislike to you, she saw you as a person, she saw you as the person that was threatening”; did Rebekah Brooks discuss my line of inquiry on the investigation with you?…
“He went on to say to me, “she tried to smear you as being mad, she was saying to Blair, you’ve got to call this man off, he’s mad, don’t you realise he’s mad?” Did you discuss the inquiry or do you know whether Rebekah Brooks discussed the inquiry with Tony Blair?”
To which Murdoch replied:
“I certainly had very little to do with the former prime minister and I have no knowledge of any other discussions with him about this or other matters.”
On the issue of the value and number of ‘hush money’ payouts that had been issued, to Max Clifford, Gordon Taylor et al and payments to ex-employees – including felons – Tory MP Philip Davies accused Murdoch of being “cavalier with money… without a blink of an eye”, comparing the splashing of cash at News Corporation to Walmart, where Davies used to work.
“It all seems very cavalier to me, you know, very cavalier with money. Given that your organisation is so succesful I can’t believe you’ve been so successful by being so cavalier with money, you sort of pay off somebody, an employee who’s been to prison, you give them a quarter of a million pounds without a blink of an eye to pay them off, even though they’ve been to prison and brought the company into disrepute.
“You agree to settle cases with no real cap put in place but just some sort of a ballpark figure that people are left to go along with, you think that the company should have a legal counsel’s opinion but you don’t ask to even see the opinion when it comes even when it’s a substantial amount of money…
“I find it incredible, absolutely incredible that you didn’t say: “How much? Quarter of a million pound? Let me have a look at that.” I can’t even begin to believe that that is a course of action that any self respecting chief executive, chief operating officer could possibly take with so much of the companies money and reputation at stake.”
One of the most revealing exchanges, however, was with Labour’s Steve Rotheram, who got Murdoch to admit that, if there is proof the Sun is involved in phone hacking, it might be closed down like the News of the World. The admission followed Rotheram’s mentioning of The Sun’s lies over Hillsborough, for which Murdoch offered a “full apology”.
“Do you understand the significance of the date I gave which was 1989?…
“The reference to 1989 is because that was when the Sun newspaper published lies about the Hillsborough disaster under the banner headline “The Truth”, and the question that I’d like you to answer is, did the fact that the Sun got away with telling outrageous lies in 1989 lead News International into believing that they could do whatever they wanted without reproach?”
Onto the role of the Sun in phone hacking, here is the full exchange between Rotheram and Murdoch:
SR: “Is it in the public interest to tell lies?”
JM: “Certainly not.”
SR: “You mentioned that a journalist at the Sun had been arrested earlier. Did employees working at the Sun newspaper commission phone hacks?”
JM: “It would be inappropriate for me to comment on any of the circumstances around what was provided by… I shouldn’t probably comment on the charges or anything like that either.”
SR: “Are you aware that the words “The Sun” appeared in the evidence file of convicted private investigator Glen Mulcaire?”
JM: “I was not aware of that.”
SR: “If this particular publication is implicated in phone hacking, and if it’s revealed that the Sun does appear in the Mulcaire file, will you close this paper like you did with the News of the World?”
JM: “It’s important to not pre-judge the outcome of any investigations, nor is it, I think, appropriate to pre-judge what actions the company might take.”
SR: “You don’t rule it out?”
JM: “I don’t think we can rule, and I shouldn’t rule any corporate reaction to behaviour of wrongdoing out, that’ll be a decision taken at the time given whatever is out there.”
Another gripping session, then, but still no killer blow. Though committee chair John Whittingdale, quicker than you can say bada bing, bada boom, appeared to rule out any further hearings immediately after the session, it’s difficult to see how this can be the end of the matter. Either Tom Crone and Colin Myler misled Parliament, or Mr Murdoch did – there’s no getting away from that simple, irrefutable fact.
What we need is for all three to appear, side-by-side-by-side – only then may we find out the truth.
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• Dowler solicitor: News Int acting “like Soviet Union… you think the KGB are following you” – Shamik Das, November 8th 2011
• The NUJ is the solution to the sickness at News International – Ruwan Subasinghe, October 6th 2011
• Murdoch could be jailed for “life of the Parliament” if guilty of contempt – Shamik Das, July 22nd 2011
• The Murdoch hearings: What the rules say – Shamik Das, July 19th 2011
• MPs were warned off probing Brooks and Coulson “because there could be consequences” – Claire French, July 6th 2011