Eunice Huthart, a former body double for Angelina Jolie, has become the first person to file a phone-hacking lawsuit against News Corp. in the U.S. Huthart, a British national whose most recent credit is as stunt coordinator on Disney’s upcoming Jolie-starrer Maleficent, filed a civil complaint (read it here) against News Corp, and its UK press arm News International, in federal court on June 13 alleging right to privacy violations. Those include “intrusion into, interception of and interference with” voicemail messages left on her phone while she was working as a double for Jolie in the U.S. in 2005. The suit seeks damages for violations of federal and California laws.
EXCLUSIVE 9 AM, 4TH UPDATE 11 AM WRITETHRU (new details): News Corp Chairman/CEO Rupert Murdoch filed for divorce from wife Wendi Deng Murdoch this morning in New York State Supreme Court, Deadline learned at 9 AM. The divorce will not impact Rupert Murdoch’s mega-media holdings, according to insiders, and was deliberately announced for maximum transparency before News Corp spins off its publishing assets into a separately traded company by June 28th. (Murdoch will control both of these entities.) Wendi is perhaps most vividly and fondly remembered by the general public in July 2011 for standing up for her husband and clocking Jonathan May-Bowles after he threw a pie at Murdoch during his highly publicized British parliamentary testimony in connection with the News International phone-hacking scandal. (“Mr Murdoch, your wife has a very good left hook,” the chairman of the House Of Commons panel said admiringly. Wendi quickly earned the nickname of ‘Tiger Wife’ on Twitter.) Today’s divorce news comes despite numerous denials by PR man Steven Rubenstein and News Corp PR woman Julie Henderson to me as recently as April and May. (“We get this phone call once every 3-6 months,” Rubenstein and Henderson said at the time, pointing to the fact that Wendi and Rupert had recently hosted a dinner at their home for Oscar-winning Twentieth Century Fox director Ang Lee and were going away together on Spring Break.) But legal sources insisted to Deadline that the Murdochs’ divorce was being planned at the same time that a change in Wendi’s behavior towards Rupert was observed during the Academy Awards in February and after. ”She was snippy with him during Oscar weekend, and she’s really impatient with him these days,” a source told Deadline then. I received a call from an insider telling me, “Now I’m hearing it might be true. Call me,” On the heels of that, for the first time, not even Murdoch’s reps were denying yet another rift between Rupert and Wendi, saying to me there had been marriage trouble but stressing ”it feels like its past whatever that was.” A source who had dinner with them shortly after in NYC told me they were “fine. They’re two people who move a lot in different directions. I don’t know if it’s the marriage I’d want.” But another insider acknowledged to me, “I can’t say it might not be true that they’ll divorce. They have ups and downs. Right now it feels to me, having spent time with them, that they’re in a good place.” There is no question that despite divorce clouds Murdoch’s #1 priority was the News Corp split, not his from Wendi’s, and ”to get it done and get it done right. So he’s had a lot on his plate. What was once one is now two,” an insider explained to me at the time. “The company is so big, so diverse, so complex, and now he has to recalibrate and reaggregate these businesses while the Street determines their true value.” Today I’m told by insiders that, at that time, there were still no divorce proceedings underway so the denials were issued in good faith. “The divorce happened very quickly,” an insider told me today without details.
Media moguls routinely divorce, and Deadline doesn’t cover Hollywood’s personal lives, but this split is notable only because of its possible impact on the News Corp split or the Murdoch family succession vis a vis its corporate holdings given the patriarch’s age of 82. “I don’t see anything to indicate that shareholders have a lot at stake if Rupert and Wendi split,” one prominent media analyst tells me. “News Corp paid her $92,000 in 2010 to provide some ‘strategic advice’ regarding MySpace in China. But that’s not even pocket change, and ended three years ago, She’s not on the board, and not an executive. And since she and her kids don’t have voting rights in the family trust, she doesn’t have leverage to influence succession. I suppose that investors might become nervous if she decided to spill some News Corp secrets, or distracted Rupert so much that he’d spend less time taking care of business. But that’s thin gruel.” As for News Corp’s obligations to keep Wall Street and shareholders up to date on this kind of personal matter, “They have to report ‘material’ information on a timely basis. A lot of wiggle room there.”
Global Showbiz Briefs: Rebekah Brooks Pleads Not Guilty; Screen Media Brings ‘Paris’ To US; ‘Thirteenth Tale’ To BBC Two
Rebekah Brooks Pleads Not Guilty To Multiple Charges
Rebekah Brooks, the former chief executive of Rupert Murdoch’s News International, pleaded not guilty Wednesday to criminal charges stemming from her tenure at the company. Brooks entered her plea at the Southwark crown court in London today. She has been charged with various offenses under three separate investigations that were convened following the phone-hacking scandal at the News Of The World tabloid. According to reports, she pleaded not guilty to charges of conspiring to hack phones and conspiring to commit misconduct in a public office by paying officials for stories. She also entered a not guilty plea on two charges connected to conspiring to pervert the course of justice. Several other defendants, including Brooks’ husband, also pleaded not guilty to charges leveled at them. Brooks is expected to stand trial in September.
Screen Media Imports French Thriller ‘Paris Countdown’
Screen Media Films has acquired U.S. rights to French crime thriller Paris Countdown, the directorial debut of writer Edgar Marie. An October theatrical release is planned with VOD available in September. Olivier Marchal and Jacques Gamblin star as co-owners of a Paris nightclub who are lured into a drug deal that goes bad. Tortured by police, they negotiate their freedom while their liaison goes to prison. Six years later, the nightmare begins again when the psychopath is …
Tom Mockridge, the former CEO of Rupert Murdoch’s News International, has been named successor to Virgin Media‘s outgoing CEO Neil Berkett. The UK’s Virgin Media is in the process of being acquired by John Malone’s Liberty Global in a $23.3B deal, setting the stage for a battle of the billionaires in the UK pay-TV sector where Murdoch’s Sky is the number one operator and Virgin is number two. Mockridge resigned as the News International head in December 2012 after assuming the reins in July 2011 amid the phone hacking scandal. He spent more than two decades at News International owner News Corp. where he also held the posts of chief executive of European television operations and chief executive of Sky Italia. Liberty’s takeover of Virgin will be voted on by shareholders in June with the acquisition to close shortly thereafter. Berkett will leave Virgin when the deal is finalized.
James Harding resigned as editor of Rupert Murdoch’s The Times neswspaper in December saying, “It has been made clear to me that News Corporation would like to appoint a new editor of The Times.” Reports suggested that Harding’s departure was the result of upset at The Times’ parent company over the paper’s somewhat critical stance during the phone-hacking scandal that had engulfed News Corp.’s UK press arm, News International. When Harding starts his new job as director of news and current affairs at the BBC on August 12, he’ll be joining another company that has seen its share of recent crises.
The BBC’s news division has been plagued by troubles in the past six months including the Jimmy Savile scandal, botched reporting at the flagship Newsnight program and walkouts by journalists. Its Panorama program is drawing fire this week over allegations that London School of Economics students were put in harm’s way during the filming of a documentary in North Korea.
Geoff Webster, the former deputy editor of News Corp‘s UK tabloid The Sun, is the latest to be charged with conspiring to commit misconduct in public office. Britain’s Crown Prosecution Service said today that Webster was charged with two offenses, one related to allegations he authorized £6,500 in payments for information supplied by a public official to one of his journalists, the other related to an allegation that he OK’d a £1,500 payment for information provided by an unknown public official. The crimes are alleged to have taken place between July 2010 and August 2011. The charges fall under Scotland Yard’s Operation Elveden, which stems from News Corp’s handing over 300M internal emails in an effort to cooperate with police amid the phone-hacking scandal. Webster is the fourth Sun journalist to be charged under the investigation. Former editor and News International chief Rebekah Brooks also faces charges under Elveden. Webster will appear in a London court next week.
Joe Utichi contributes to Deadline’s UK coverage.
UPDATE, 4:09 PM: The UK government today announced a fresh sweep of press regulation reforms, brought about as a result of the News Of The World phone-hacking brouhaha. But key newspaper groups, including Rupert Murdoch’s News International, have refused to endorse the government’s proposals. A late-night round of cross-party negotiations prevented a potentially embarrassing rebellion from within David Cameron’s own party as the two proposals were brought to consensus. The final reforms will see British papers regulated by a watchdog run completely independently of the media. Fines of up to £1M — thought to be the toughest in the world — would be handed down to the worst offenders. And the only legal statute relates to the right of ministers to change the rules in future, designed to prevent any possible corruptions to freedom of speech.
In a group statement signed by News International, along with Daily Mail publishers Associated Newspapers, the Telegraph media group and Richard Desmond’s Northern & Shell, newspaper proprietors say the proposals feature “several deeply contentious issues which have not yet been resolved with the industry”. As one senior exec told the Guardian, “This is a political deal between the three parties and Hacked Off,” referring to the campaign group fronted by Hugh Grant. “It is not a deal with the newspapers.”
News Corp. has been raising the profile of deputy COO James Murdoch of late with the exec making two appearances before investors last month. Is News Corp. also looking to rebuild his coterie of board seats? Germany’s Sky Deutschland plans to appoint Murdoch as a member of its supervisory board, according to Reuters. The pay-TV group, a source told the news agency, expects to benefit from Murdoch’s international market and new technology savvy. Amid the phone-hakcing and bribery scandals at News Corp.’s UK press division last year, Murdoch left chairmanships at News International and at pay-TV group BSkyB, which News Corp. controls via its 39% stake. He also ankled the boards of Sotheby’s, GlaxoSmithKline and News Corp.’s UK print operations. But, he retained his board seat at BSkyB. News Corp. owns 54.8% of Sky Deutschland and if Murdoch does join the company board, he would be surrounded by News Corp. execs. COO Chase Carey, 20th Century Fox Television Distribution president Mark Kaner, News International CEO Thomas Mockridge and Europe & Asia COO Jan Koeppen are all members.
Former Rupert Murdoch lieutenant Rebekah Brooks and former News Of The World editor Andy Coulson appeared in a London court today on charges of allegedly conspiring to bribe public officials. While both of their cases were adjourned to another date, according to BBC News, four others pleaded guilty to selling information to the News Corp.-owned Sun tabloid. Two former police officers, an ex-prison officer and a public official (who was not named for legal reasons) are the first to plead guilty to misconduct in a public office under Scotland Yard’s three linked investigations into illegal acts by journalists. Brooks, formerly chief of News Corp. press arm News International, and Coulson, also both face charges in the phone-hacking investigation. The provisional trial date is September 9 this year.
Meanwhile, in a bit of good news for News International, The Times and Sunday Times were awarded nine UK Press Awards on Thursday night, including Newspaper of the Year and Scoop of the Year for The Times and Sports Team of the Year for the Sunday Times. Occasional Twitter user Murdoch sent out a few missives about politics yesterday, but there was no shout out for the wins.
Global Showbiz Briefs: Savile Claims Hit BBC, Sony TV In Russia, TLC’s ‘Bizarre ER’, Fremantle’s ‘Family Harmony’ And More
BBC Hit With Civil Claims In Jimmy Savile Scandal
A lawyer acting on behalf of 31 victims of the late Jimmy Savile has lodged civil claims for compensation in the high court against the disgraced host’s estate and the BBC over allegations of sexual abuse. Attorney Alan Collins told The Guardian that all claims are against Savile’s estate with “seven or eight” against the BBC itself, which the suits allege has “vicarious liability” in the case. Another lawyer working on behalf of a further 62 victims told Bloomberg that the action was premature, because parties involved had agreed to wait for the results of the police investigation into Savile. “We do not believe the commencement of litigation at this stage to be either necessary or in our clients’ best interest,” she said. – Joe Utichi
Endemol Taps Former FremantleMedia Exec To Oversee Asian Operation
In the latest in a string of executive appointments, Big Brother producer Endemol has named Fotini Paraskakis managing director of its Asian operations to oversee creative, production and format sales activities across the region. The exec joins from FremantleMedia Asia where she was director of content for all of the company’s formats in the region including Idols, Got Talent and X Factor. As Endemol looks to expand in Asia, its recent projects there include a first series of Fear Factor and a second season of The Money Drop for Astro in Malaysia; a third season of Your Face Sounds Familiar on Hunan Satellite TV in China and the return of Deal Or No Deal and the launch of The Money Drop in the Philippines.
As News Corp. prepares to split into two distinct entities, two senior roles have been filled on the publishing side. Times and Sunday Times group managing editor Anoushka Healy has been named chief strategy officer and William Lewis, an executive member of News Corp.’s Management and Standards Committee, has been named chief creative officer. Both execs will be part of News Corporation, as the spun off publishing division will be known (the media and entertainment half of the company will be called Fox Group). The separation of the businesses is expected to be completed by the end of June. Here’s the release on the new appointments:
New York, NY – February 1, 2013 – News Corporation (NASDAQ: NWS, NWSA; ASX: NWS, NWSLV) today announced two senior management appointments for the New News Corporation, the proposed global publishing entity to be formed as part of the Company’s intended separation into two independent, publicly traded companies.
Anoushka Healy, currently Group Managing Editor of The Times and Sunday Times in London, has been named Chief Strategy Officer and will help shape the new News Corporation and fashion its strategic direction. She will also be responsible for sharing best practices across the organization, implementing new projects and supporting talent around the company’s businesses.
William Lewis has been appointed Chief Creative Officer. He will be responsible for the new company’s creative strategy and will have a central role in developing new commercial opportunities, including product launches, digital initiatives and acquisitions. Mr. Lewis joined News Corporation as Group General Manager of News International in London in September 2010 and became an executive member of News Corporation’s Management and Standards Committee in July 2011.
Rupert Murdoch was in London last week, crowing about scoring rights to online clips of Premier League soccer matches and reportedly visiting his UK newspapers. He also held a private dinner that’s becoming a hot potato in the local media. London Mayor Boris Johnson, a rival to Prime Minister David Cameron for leadership of the Conservative Party, is widely believed to have attended along with Chancellor of the Exchequer George Osborne, whose office confirmed his presence to The Guardian. (Also reportedly there was Homeland star Damian Lewis, whose show is produced by News Corp.-owned Fox21, and who’s a graduate of Eton, as is Johnson.) While private meetings between politicians and media owners don’t run afoul of parliamentary or party rules, this particular dinner has raised eyebrows in light of last year’s Leveson Inquiry into UK media ethics where an overriding theme was the cozy relationship enjoyed by newspaper proprietors and the highest levels of government.
‘The Following’ Gets Killer Ratings On Sky Atlantic
Kevin Bacon serial killer drama The Following had a solid debut on Fox in the U.S. on Monday and on Tuesday premiered on UK pay channel Sky Atlantic. In the 10PM-11PM slot, the violent horror thriller drew an average of 270,000 viewers for a 1.4% share. The numbers may not sound earth-shattering but they were more than 636% higher than the slot average over the past three months, The Guardian reported. Meanwhile, the premiere of Downton Abbey creator Julian Fellowes’ reality show about English manses, Great Houses With Julian Fellowes, drew 2.2M viewers on ITV at 9PM for an 8.8% share on Tuesday.
After Times Newspapers independent directors refused to approve Rupert Murdoch’s appointment of editors to The Times and Sunday Times last week, the News Corp. chief has flown to London to hold a summit meeting, The Guardian reports. The visit is expected to include “clear-the-air” talks with the Times Newspapers directors who were given oversight under the terms that allowed Murdoch to acquire the papers in 1981. Creating a potential standoff, the directors on Friday refused to accept News Corp.’s nominations of John Witherow and Martin Ivens for permanent appointments at The Times and Sunday Times, respectively. Witherow, who has been editor of the Sunday Times for 18 years, is replacing James Harding at the helm of The Times on an acting basis for now, but that’s understood to be a source of some consternation. Harding left the paper in December saying, “It has been made clear to me that News Corporation would like to appoint a new editor of The Times. I have, therefore, agreed to stand down.” Murdoch was seen in the newsroom at The Sun and The Times on Monday. In separate but related news, the Crown Prosecution Service said today it will charge defense editor of The Sun, Virginia Wheeler, with conspiracy to commit misconduct in public office as part of the ongoing Operation Elveden inquiry. Both former News International chief Rebekah Brooks …
ITV’s ‘Come Dine With Me’ Format In 36 Territories
ITV Studios Global Entertainment has signed multiple deals for its hit format Come Dine With Me including Asia’s first local version of the format to air on Indian broadcaster Star India. The network has commissioned 40 30-minute episodes. The Star India deal brings the total number of international territories producing the show to 36. Additionally, ITV Studios Nordic has been recommissioned to produce a 10th series of 60 episodes by Sweden’s TV4 and a second series of 40 episodes by Nelonen in Finland. Meanwhile, ITV Studios Australia has been recommissioned to produce a fourth (6 x 60’) series for Foxtel’s Lifestyle Channel to air in 2013. The format has also recently re-launched in Turkey on Fox TV and Belgium on Vier 4.
Prince And Princesses Denounce ‘Grace Of Monaco’
Monaco’s Prince Albert and his sisters Princesses Caroline and Stephanie criticized as glamorized fiction the screenplay for the movie starring Nicole Kidman as their mother, former Hollywood actress Grace Kelly. A statement released by the royal palace of Monaco charged that Grace of Monaco contained “historical untruths” and some “purely fictional” parts. Their statement was intended to debunk a story in the magazine Paris Match that said the Monaco royals had been reassured by producers about the credibility of director Olivier Dahan’s project. “Their Highnesses were quite surprised when they received the script,” said the statement emailed to Reuters. “The Palace had submitted many requests for changes to the producers of the film, not all of which were taken into consideration.” The statement added, “Consequently, the Princely family wishes to emphasize that this film is by no means a biopic”.
Marion Cotillard To Be Feted At Harvard
Oscar winning French actress Marion Cotillard has been named Harvard’s Hasty Pudding Theatricals’ woman of the year. Cotillard won her Best Actress Academy Award for 2007’s La Vie En Rose and last year won accolades for her role in Jacques Audiard’s Rust And Bone. She will be feted with a parade and a roast and given her ceremonial pudding pot at Harvard on January 31. She’s the first French actress to receive the honor.
China’s 2012 Box Office Up 30% To $2.74B
China’s State Administration of Radio, Film and Television has released updated box office figures for 2012 with sales hitting $2.74B for a 30.18% increase over last year. SARFT said the nation produced 893 total films last year including 745 features and 33 animated pictures, the Xinhua news agency reported. On its way to an estimated 16,000 screens by 2015, the country is adding 10.5 screens a day. As noted last week, however, those screens are increasingly drawing crowds for foreign films which have eaten into the local share. Imports took $1.4B in box office for 51.54% of the market in 2012. Still, homegrown hit Lost In Thailand recently became the highest-grossing Chinese film of all time with nearly $190M in less than a month of release.
The actor was one of the most high-profile victims of the scandal that ended in the shuttering of the News Corp-owned UK tabloid News Of The World. Hugh Grant‘s settlement for damages with Rupert Murdoch’s British publishing arm News International was for a “substantial sum”, his lawyer said today, and will be donated to Grant’s Hacked Off campaign, which is advocating for responsible press. Grant had filed his complaint in September. Earlier this month, News International settled 22 other cases related to the scandal, which led into a UK government inquiry into press ethics and several ongoing probes into corruption and bribery. Grant also testified before the Leveson Inquiry, which after a 16-month investigation called for an independent regulator to oversee the British press, an order UK publishers are now trying to figure out how to implement.