Avon Pension Fund and others who owned News Corp stock from mid-February to mid-July 2011 charged in the class action suit that Rupert Murdoch, James Murdoch, former News Of The World editor Rebekah Brooks, and other execs at News Corp (before it split into two companies) committed fraud when the UK hacking scandal was unfolding. They told the public — including in testimony at Parliament — that it was just an isolated problem, and it wasn’t. When the widespread extent of the hacking became known in mid-2011, News Corp shares fell 17%, and it derailed the company’s plan to buy British Sky Broadcasting. But a U.S. District Court in New York dismissed the case today, Reuters reports. The problem? Judge Paul Gardephe said that the News Corp execs couldn’t be held liable for statements made before the period when the plaintiffs said that they lost money.”To hold otherwise would require adopting an ‘endless breach argument,’ which would permit plaintiffs to circumvent the well-settled rule that defendants are liable only for those statements made during the class period,” Gardephe says.
The Stateside phone hacking-scandal suit that a former body double for Angelina Jolie filed against News Corp last summer looks likely to end up in the U.K. if a federal judge doesn’t change his mind. Before a hearing Monday on the company’s motion to dismiss, Judge Michael Fitzgerald said in a tentative ruling that Eunice Huthart‘s case belonged in “the courts of England and Wales” not the U.S.
Alleging that her phone was tampered with in 2004 while living with Jolie in L.A., Huthart’s initial complaint on June 13 was the first hacking scandal suit filed against News Corp and its UK Press arm in the U.S. Back in September of last year, News Corp and News International filed their motion to toss the case or have it move to Britain. After issuing his tentative and hearing arguments from lawyers representing the English-born stuntwoman and the media corporation, Judge Fitzgerald said he would take the matter under submission (read it here). Though it happens, it is very unusual for a judge to reverse himself after issuing such a clear tentative.
Rebekah Brooks, the former chief executive of Rupert Murdoch’s News International (now News UK), took the stand for the first time today in London’s long-running phone-hacking trial. This was Brooks’ first time in the witness box since the criminal trial stemming from the phone-hacking scandal at the now-shuttered News Of The World began in October. After nearly four months, prosecutors rested their case this week and the defense is just beginning. According to local media reports, the presiding judge, John Saunders, instructed jurors that Brooks is to be found not guilty on one of the five counts against her. She was acquitted on the single charge of conspiring to commit misconduct in a public office related to payments The Sun allegedly made for a picture of Prince William wearing a bikini at a costume party. “There is no case to answer for Mrs Brooks” on the charge, the judge said. The Guardian reports he told the jury his decision was “a matter of law.” He did not provide further detail, but The Associated Press reports Saunders said there was “considerable uncertainty” about the photo’s provenance. The photo was taken when William, now the Duke of Cambridge, was at Sandhurst Military Academy and Brooks was editor of The Sun.
Global Showbiz Briefs: New Revelations In Phone-Hacking Scandal; Claire Danes To Host Nobel Peace Prize Concert; More
Hacking Trial Lawyer: Brooks And Coulson Had 6-Year Affair
The phone-hacking trial taking place in London was the source of new revelations Thursday as prosecuting attorney Andrew Edis told jurors that defendants Rebekah Brooks and Andy Coulson carried on a six-year “secret” affair from 1998-2004. Brooks is the former head of News International (now News UK), the British press arm of Rupert Murdoch’s News Corp, and Coulson was editor of the now-closed News Of The World before leaving to join Prime Minister David Cameron’s team as his communications director. As part of his opening remarks, Edis stressed that he was not bringing up the relationship between Brooks and Coulson, which the prosecution said was evident from a letter to Coulson that was found on one of Brooks’ computers, to intrude on their privacy or pass judgment. “The point that I’m going to make in relation to that letter is that over the relevant period, what Mr Coulson knew, Mrs Brooks knew too. And what Mrs Brooks knew, Mr Coulson knew too — that’s the point.” He told the court the affair spanned the period covered by the phone-hacking conspiracy charges the pair is facing, according to The Times. “Mrs Brooks and Mr Coulson are charged with conspiracy,” Edis said, “and, when people are charged with conspiracy, the first question a jury has to answer is how well did they know each other? How much did they trust each other?” At the time of the letter in 2004, Brooks was editor of The Sun and Coulson was at NOTW.
On October 14, Rupert Murdoch tweeted: “Big media trials in London in 2 weeks. Remember, everyone innocent until proven guilty, entitled to fair trial in most countries.” Murdoch was referring to the criminal trial related to phone hacking at his now defunct News Of The World tabloid. This morning, eight defendants including former Murdoch employees Rebekah Brooks and Andy Coulson made it to court amid a media frenzy for what some are calling the “Trial of the Century.” It may feel like a century once the proceedings wrap sometime around Easter 2014 and after an expected 100 witnesses have been called. Jury selection began today with the prosecution starting later in the week.
While Murdoch, Brooks and Coulson are no longer linked professionally, the outcome of the trial has the potential to impact the mogul’s business going forward. Even the News Corp-owned Wall Street Journal wrote that the courtroom drama “could further embarrass both the media giant and the British government.” One of the lines of questioning during the Leveson Inquiry into UK media ethics, the probe hatched by Prime Minister David Cameron in the wake of the News Of The World scandal, focused on the relationships between politicians and newspaper proprietors and editors. With Brooks and Coulson now standing trial, this could put News Corp’s relationship with the UK government back into the spotlight. Brooks was head of News Corp‘s UK press arm, News International (now News UK), until the phone-hacking scandal first exploded at the News Of The World in July 2011. She has denied the five charges against her including conspiracy to hack phones, conspiracy to commit misconduct in a public office by paying officials for stories, and conspiracy to pervert the course of justice. Coulson was formerly editor of News Of The World. He went on to become Cameron’s spin doctor, a post he vacated in 2011. He is facing three charges related to phone hacking and conspiracy to commit misconduct in a public office. They are joined by six other defendants who have all pleaded not guilty, including Brooks’ husband Charlie, a longtime Cameron friend.
In the wake of revelations of a secret recording of Rupert Murdoch addressing staff at his Sun tabloid, the UK’s Department of Culture, Media and Sport in July invited the mogul to discuss the matter at an official hearing. (The comments inlcuded Murdoch talking about his company’s handling of bribery and hacking charges at his UK newspapers.) Murdoch accepted the invitation, but no date was set at the time given the impending summer recess. Now it looks as though Murdoch’s appearance could be postponed by as much as a year. According to The Guardian, the hearing was shelved after the attorney general and Murdoch’s own lawyers intervened. With criminal trials about to begin in relation to the activities of News Corp’s UK press arm, News International (now News UK), there was a consideration on both sides that any testimony could prejudice those proceedings. Eight defendants go to trial on October 28, including former Murdoch lieutenant Rebekah Brooks. A further three trials are scheduled, with the last expected in June 2014. The Guardian says that Murdoch wrote to the committee this week saying lawyers advised him not to submit to questioning until all the criminal trials were finished. Committee chair John Whittingdale confirmed receipt of the letter and said, “At the same time, the committee received its own advice that there was a risk that any questions might prejudice the trials. …
Global Showbiz Briefs: Rupert Murdoch Eyeing Financial Times?; Ruling On Hacking Appeal; ‘Either Way’ Helmer’s Next Pic
Report: Rupert Murdoch, Abu Dhabi Media Group Eyeing Financial Times
A report out of Malaysia circulated this morning which claimed Rupert Murdoch and the state-owned Abu Dhabi Media Group are in talks to acquire The Financial Times Group for $1.2B. News Corp. said, “This is completely untrue” and FT owner, Pearson, also denied the report saying, “The Financial Times is not for sale, and Pearson is not in any talks to sell it.” The talks, reported by Malaysian political and business magazine The Edge Review, cited financial executives familiar with the negotiations which had purportedly been going on for the past month. The Financial Times Group includes the flagship Financial Times newspaper as well as The Economist magazine. Per AFP, the report said the Abu Dhabi group is eyeing a 75% stake with Murdoch’s new News Corp. taking 25%. News Corp. officially split into two entities today. In an interview published in the FT website on Thursday evening, chief executive of the publishing business, Robert Thomson, said News Corp. could use its $2.6B of net cash for acquisitions, but there was no mention of the FT, and he also played down expectations of a bid for the Los Angeles Times. Thomson is a former U.S. managing editor of the FT.
Judges Deny Appeals To Drop Charges Against Hacking-Scandal Figures
In other News Corp.-related news, former News International chief Rebekah Brooks, and former News Of The World editor Andy Coulson have both been denied appeals to have criminal charges against them dropped. Neither appeared in a London court Friday, but three judges there dismissed the appeal that had been brought by Brooks, Coulson and three others, The Guardian said. Brooks and Coulson’s trials begin in September, when they will face charges related to phone hacking. The appeals were fashioned on the grounds that the law does not extend to voicemails that already had been listened to.
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 …
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.
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.
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 …
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.
Global Showbiz Briefs: Sony LondonTV Deal, Rebekah Brooks Severance, Jimmy Savile Crimes, Berlin Film Mart
Sony Backs UK Consortium Bidding For LondonTV License
A group known as the Channel 6 Consortium has announced that Sony Pictures Television Networks in the UK has agreed to support LondonTV, the Consortium’s proposed local channel. There are currently 6 groups bidding for the license that regulator Ofcom will grant by February 2013. Under the agreement, SPT Networks will be a program schedule provider and deliver creative services for LondonTV in the event of a successful bid. SPT Networks’ UK advertising partner would also handle all advertising sales for LondonTV. The consortium is backed by London newspaper groups Archant, Tindle and Trinity Mirror. LondonTV’s mission is to produce thousands of hours of high quality local news and current affairs programming on an annual basis. Sony’s involvement would add series and films. Chief exec of the Channel 6 Consortium, Richard Horwood, said Sony’s “expertise in the multichannel sector will significantly strengthen LondonTV from the outset.” SPT Networks already operates Sony Entertainment Television and Sony Movie Channel in the UK.
Rupert Murdoch and his son James Murdoch want an American class action lawsuit against them and News International over the UK phone hacking scandal dismissed. Not because they may have acted badly but, in a motion (read it here) filed late last week, because they believe they didn’t break the Securities Exchange Act of 1934. “Even if plaintiffs disagree about how the misconduct at News of the World was handled, their claims sound in mismanagement, which does not as a matter of law state a securities fraud claim,” the Murdoch’s motion says. “It is well-settled that a plaintiff cannot bootstrap mismanagement claims into a federal securities law action.”
In a suit filed on July 19, 2011, New Corp shareholder Lewis Wilder claimed that the Murdochs, as well as other New International executives like former CEO Rebekah Brooks, violated the 1934 Act by hiding the “existence and extent of illegal and unethical newsgathering practices” at the News Corp-owned company’s British tabloids. The dates in question that the securities fraud occurred were from February 15, 2011 to July 18, 2011. The Avon Pension Fund and the Iron Workers Local Union No. 17 Pension Fund later joined Wilder in the suit. The shareholders claim that revelations of the hacking scandal smacked …
Former News International CEO Rebekah Brooks wants her involvement in a U.S. class action suit over the phone hacking scandal dismissed. “The Complaint should be dismissed as to Brooks because Plaintiffs have failed to allege any facts to support a finding of personal jurisdiction over her,” says a motion (read it here) the ex-News Corp executive’s lawyers filed last week. Brooks, who was News International boss from September 2009 to July 15, 2011, is facing criminal charges in the UK in relation to the sprawling phone hacking scandal. A shareholder’s lawsuit launched Stateside on July 19, 2011 accuses Brooks, plus co-defendants Rupert Murdoch, James Murdoch and Les Hinton, as having violated the Securities Exchange Act of 1934. The Avon Pension Fund, Iron Workers Local Union No. 17 Pension Fund and Lewis Wilder’s class action claims that the executives concealed the “existence and extent of illegal and unethical newsgathering practices” at News International.
This week UK attention will turn back to the phone-hacking scandal as it morphs into a wider discussion about freedom of the press. On Thursday, Lord Justice Brian Leveson will unveil the long-awaited findings of his inquiry into UK media ethics and make his recommendations on how to regulate the industry. It’s expected the report will call for some form of statutory underpinning to press regulation. That has the British media girding for battle and crying foul against its rights. Independent editor Chris Blackhurst in August said Leveson was “loading a gun” against newspapers. Prime Minister David Cameron also has a challenge on his hands as he risks alienating his media allies and/or his own government based on his reaction to the findings. And, he’ll only have 24 hours to fashion a response after getting an early look at the report on Wednesday. Cameron’s press office on Sunday said the PM remained “open-minded.”
It was Cameron who convened the inquiry in July 2011 as the phone-hacking scandal blew wide open at Rupert Murdoch’s News Of The World tabloid. During its run, the probe heard evidence from more than 150 witnesses including Murdoch, Tony Blair, Hugh Grant, J.K. Rowling, the Dowler family and Cameron himself who in June faced uncomfortable questioning about his relationship to former Murdoch lieutenant Rebekah Brooks. He recently told the BBC’s Andrew Marr he would “absolutely” abide by Leveson’s suggestions on regulation as long as they were reasonable. “The status quo is not an option,” he said. Deputy PM Nick Clegg and Labour leader Ed Miliband are expected to back Leveson’s proposals, but some members of Cameron’s own Conservative party are leaning towards non-statutory regulation, including London mayor Boris Johnson. At the same time, there is a group of Conservative MPs who want radical reform, The Guardian has noted.
Should he support statutory regulation, Cameron will risk alienating members of the media who are already unhappy that a light has been shone so brightly on their underbelly by an inquiry that he ordered. In April, Rupert Murdoch told the Leveson Inquiry, “When it comes to regulation, I just beg for some care. A varied press guarantees democracy.” But some papers who have not been accused of wrongdoing are likely to be caught in the crossfire.
Rebekah Brooks And Andy Coulson Will Face Criminal Charges Over Alleged Payments To Public Officials
Rebekah Brooks and Andy Coulson are already facing criminal charges in relation to the phone-hacking scandal that has rocked News Corp.‘s UK press arm, News International. Today, Britain’s Crown Prosecution Service said it would also level criminal charges against former News International chief Brooks and former News Of The World editor Coulson in relation to Operation Elveden, the investigation into alleged corrupt payments by newspapers to police officers and other public officials. Former Rupert Murdoch lieutenant Brooks was editor of The Sun newspaper from 2003-2009 and later became head of News International. Prosecutors today said they had concluded that Brooks, along with ex-Sun reporter John Kay and Ministry of Defence employee Bettina Jordan Barber, “should be charged with a conspiracy to commit misconduct in public office between 1 January 2004 and 31 January 2012. This conspiracy relates to information allegedly provided by Bettina Jordan Barber for payment, which formed the basis of a series of news stories published by The Sun. It is alleged that approximately £100,000 was paid” to Barber between 2004 and 2011.”
‘Skyfall’ Brings Windfall To UK’s Odeon Circuit
On Thursday, Skyfall became the UK’s all-time highest grossing 007 movie, taking £57M ($91.2)in just 12 days. Odeon, Britain’s largest cinema chain, is reaping the benefits of the breakout Bond movie scoring the largest 7-day opening ever for a single film with £11.3M ($18.1M) in takings at its theaters. Its flagship cinema, Odeon Leicester Square, also set a new record with more than £530K ($848K) in Skyfall’s first week to overtake Harry Potter And The Deathly Hallows: Part 2, which took £495K ($792K at current exchange rate) in 2011. Odeon had a 30.5% market share of Skyfall’s UK box office in its first week.
UPDATE, 11:25 AM: A few more odds and ends from the News Corp shareholders meeting that just concluded on the Fox lot: Lachlan Murdoch — Rupert Murdoch‘s son, and a board member — didn’t show….One shareholder asked Rupert whether he’d consider adding a liberal columnist to The Wall Street Journal’s op-ed page. “We don’t interfere” with the editorial side of the operation, he said. He added that the opinion editor is the same one who served before he bought the paper in 2007, “so there’s no change.”…Board member Andrew Knight answered a question about why directors subtracted company costs related to the hacking scandal for the profit figures they used to calculate executive bonuses. Had the costs been included, they could have reduced the bonuses by as much as 5%, he acknowledged….Questioned about his frequent and often controversial comments on Twitter, Murdoch delivered the response he frequently offers his critics. “When you buy the stock, you know what the company is,” he said. “If you don’t like it, don’t buy the stock.”…No questions about, or mention of, reports that James Murdoch might take control of Fox Broadcasting and several cable networks — or about the exit payment for indicted former News International chief Rebekah Brooks.
PREVIOUS, 10:44 AM: News Corp critics who want to dilute Rupert Murdoch’s power had their chance to speak during the company’s annual shareholders meeting on the Fox lot — after the CEO announced that their proposals had been voted down. Julie Tanner of Christian Brothers Investment Services said that it was a “conflict of interests” for Murdoch to serve both as CEO and board chairman. She called the reforms in News Corp’s ethics policies “timid” and warned that without structural changes scandals like the hacking and bribery ones in the UK “will cloud the company for the foreseeable future.” Murdoch barely paid attention to Tanner, but he locked eyes with Ian Greenwood of the UK Local Authorities Pension Fund when he advocated stripping Murdoch of the chairman role. “We want to thank you very much for making us a lot of money,” he said speaking to Murdoch directly, “but this won’t go away as an issue.” Greenwood added, “I’d urge you reconsider the issue .. give investors a timeline in the public arena.” Murdoch said that he and his family are aligned with other shareholders who want to “build a great company.”