UPDATE, 7:30 AM: Speaking at the House of Commons, Prime Minister David Cameron said he accepts the “principles” of recommendations made by the Leveson Inquiry into UK press reform. But, he said he has “some serious concerns and misgivings” on supporting legislation to underpin an independent self-regulatory body to oversee the industry. “We should be very wary of any legislation that has the potential to infringe” on a free press, he said. “The danger is that it would create a vehicle for politicians to impose regulations and obligations on the press.” Cameron was asked whether a new watchdog could “prevent a newspaper group simply walking away or ignoring the new body’s findings” without statutory underpinning. Cameron returned that “Lord Justice Leveson does not himself have an answer to that question.” Cameron is starting cross-party talks on the report, but urged that the implementation of many of the recommendations can begin immediately. He also noted that there were many allegations made in both the House of Commons and at the inquiry in the past year that his Conservative party “struck a deal” with News International, but that the report finds there was no such deal. Cameron said those who made the allegation should now withdraw it.
Related: What Does Proposed UK Press Reform Mean For Rupert Murdoch And News Corp?
BREAKING: As part of the findings of his 16-month inquiry into UK media ethics (read the full report here), Lord Justice Brian Leveson writes, “Most responsible corporate entities would be appalled that employees were or could be involved in the commission of crime in order to further their business. Not so at the News Of The World.” The comment refers to the now-shuttered tabloid that was owned by Rupert Murdoch’s News Corp and whose troubles were the reason Prime Minister David Cameron convened the Leveson Inquiry in July 2011. Since then, the hearings have probed the relationships between the press and the government, the police and the public over nine months of oral testimony from 337 individuals.
Related: UK Phone-Hacking Panel To Unveil Findings And Make Recommendations This Week
In a statement today, Leveson said, “Free press in a democracy holds power to account, but with a few honorable exceptions, the UK press has not performed that vital role in the case of its own power.” As expected — and as a means to ensure that something like the phone-hacking scandal is not repeated — Leveson then recommended the creation of a new, independent self-regulatory body to oversee the press. The board would have the power to establish its own remedial action for breach of standards and should be allowed to impose financial sanctions, up to £1M. Leveson warned that should newspapers fail to establish this new scheme, it should fall to the government to pursue and could require Ofcom to act as a “backstop regulator.”
Although Leveson said the proposals were for independent and not “statutory regulation of the press,” the “backstop regulator” section is likely to rankle members of the British press who have feared any kind of legislative interference in their business. News Corp.’s News International had been silent on the matter up to yesterday, when CEO Tom Mockridge told the BBC, “The people who argue for state regulation are saying they are going to trust the politicians in this country for another 300 years not to exploit that. That is a trust too far.” Read More »
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. Read More »
Joe Utichi contributes to Deadline’s UK coverage
The ongoing crisis in the British media has drawn in a new player. As the BBC continues to sift through the scandals in its news division, rival broadcaster ITV is facing scrutiny from regulator Ofcom over one of its own news programs. ITV’s Today-style This Morning show will have to answer whether a recent interview with Prime Minister David Cameron breached the broadcasting code by failing to provide a “right of reply” to former Margaret Thatcher adviser Lord McAlpine when he was incorrectly linked to child sex abuse allegations, The Guardian reports. Host Phillip Schofield was forced to apologize after he confronted Cameron with a list of alleged perpetrators he had gleaned in “about three minutes” on the Internet, and the list was briefly made visible to the cameras. Read More »
Joe Utichi contributes to Deadline’s UK coverage
It may not be all bad news for former BBC director general George Entwistle. The executive, who resigned on Saturday amid ongoing turmoil at the broadcaster, will reportedly receive a lump sum equivalent to his annual £450,000 ($714,000) salary on top of a pension pot worth £877,000 ($1.39M). The payoff comes after Entwistle spent just 54 days in the top job and at the end of 23 years with the BBC. The money was described by the BBC Trust as a reflection of his continuing involvement with various internal inquiries currently underway. Prime Minister David Cameron’s spokesman said the payoff was “hard to justify,” according to The Guardian, but that it was for the BBC Trust to decide. But Conservative MP John Whittingdale, Read More »
Don Groves is a Deadline contributor based in Sydney
Rupert Murdoch said he was sorry twice within 24 hours on Thursday while also demanding an apology from the Australian Broadcasting Corp. – all over a series of tweets from earlier in the week. Last Saturday, Murdoch tweeted: “Told UK’s Cameron receiving scumbag celebrities pushing for even more privacy laws. Trust the toffs! Transparency under attack. Bad.” Prime Minister David Cameron had earlier met with reps for the anti-phone-hacking campaign Hacked Off including Hugh Grant, Charlotte Church and former BBC host Jacqui Hames. In response to Murdoch’s missive, Hames wrote: “Never let the facts get in the way of a good story eh Rupert. Happy to discuss our concerns with you sometime?” Murdoch replied: “I did not say all celebrities were scumbags. Check my tweet. And apology to any who misunderstood.” Another Twitter user wrote: “Scumbags”? And your journalists and executives are what?” Referring to Grant, Murdoch riposted: “They don’t get arrested for indecency on major LA highways! Or abandon love child’s.” Grant was reported to be considering legal action, The Guardian said. Murdoch tried to defuse the situation by taking to Twitter again: “Hugh Grant states that he is deeply involved in his daughter’s life – I accept that, regret tweet on the matter. Apologies to both parents.” In Australia, the ABC’s website reported Murdoch’s “scumbag celebrities” quote which incensed Read More »
David Cameron will become the first sitting UK Prime Minister to appear on The Late Show With David Letterman when he stops by for Wednesday’s show. In New York to give a keynote speech to the U.N. General Assembly, Cameron … Read More »
Maria Miller takes over for Jeremy Hunt, who became a central UK governmental figure in the News Of The World phone-hacking scandal for his purported close ties to the tabloid’s … Read More »
A Labour Party motion calling for an investigation into Culture Secretary Jeremy Hunt’s handling of News Corp’s bid for BSkyB has been quashed in Britain’s House of Commons. Prime Minister David Cameron’s Conservative Party prevailed in the vote, winning by 290 to 252. Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg had called for his Liberal Democrats to abstain in what now looks like an effort to make a point in the face of Cameron’s earlier independent decision not to launch a Hunt probe.
Related: BSkyB Bid Handling Divides UK Government; Rebekah Brooks Out On Bail
Overall, Clegg cut a humble figure at Leveson saying he was basically relegated to the kids’ table the first time he met Rupert Murdoch. His party faced “indifference at best, and derision at worst” from Murdoch execs, he said. Still, regarding BSkyB, he was told by a Parliamentary aide that it “would be good for the Lib Dems to be open to the bid, otherwise we would expect no favorable treatment from the Murdoch press.” Clegg said he once questioned the timing of News Corp’s bid for the 61% of BSkyB it did not already own since news of the acquisition came right after the 2010 general election. Clegg said he was “quizzical,” so, he asked Murdoch at News International’s summer party that year, “Why are you doing this now?” The answer, Clegg said, was not revealing.
Related: UK Won’t Investigate Culture Minister’s Role In News Corp’s BSkyB Bid Read More »
It’s a busy day in London as former News International CEO Rebekah Brooks appeared in court for the first time and Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg is giving evidence to the Leveson Inquiry — the hearings hatched in response to the phone-hacking scandal at News Corp’s News International. Clegg is also testifying as Parliament is due to vote on whether Culture Secretary Jeremy Hunt should face an independent investigation over his handling of News Corp’s bid for BSkyB.
Government sources have told UK media that Clegg, who is the Liberal Democrat leader, has instructed his MPs to abstain from the vote. The move drives a wedge into Britain’s Coalition government. Conservative Prime Minister David Cameron has refused to open an investigation into Hunt’s conduct while Clegg has pressed for a formal probe since Hunt’s close ties to James Murdoch’s office during the bid process were unveiled at Leveson. The current conflict is potentially damaging to the PM. Cameron has been led to deny any “grand deal” between himself and the Murdochs over the BSkyB bid in exchange for their support of the Conservative Party; his stance on Hunt has angered Clegg and his decision not to delve deeper into the Hunt issue has led to some scrutiny. Cameron himself appears at Leveson for a full day tomorrow. Read More »
Erstwhile News International chief executive Rebekah Brooks faced a grueling five hours of questioning Friday at the Leveson Inquiry into UK media ethics. The session focused largely on the relationship between politicians and the press and, as expected, it was confirmed that Brooks has had close dealings with senior British politicians. Those include current Prime Minister David Cameron, who, Brooks said, used to sign his text messages to her “DC” or “LOL” – which he thought meant “lots of love” until she corrected him that it meant “laugh out loud.” She did however refute the idea that Cameron at one time called her as many as 12 times a day. “That’s preposterous,” she said. Cameron did contact her regarding the phone-hacking scandal in 2010 she said, amid news reports of a bevy of civil suits against the ultimately-shuttered News Of The World. She maintained the conversations were general.
Related: Andy Coulson Testimony Shifts Focus From Rupert Murdoch To David Cameron
Brooks also said she spoke frequently with Rupert Murdoch – “sometimes every day” — when she was one of his senior executives. It’s been well-documented that Murdoch and Brooks were very tight, but she stopped short of confirming that the pair used to swim together during the News Corp chief’s visits to London as was put to her by inquiry counsel Robert Jay. “You need better sources,” she told Jay to laughter in the hearing room. Read More »
Former News Of The World editor Andy Coulson today said he did not believe in a “grand conspiracy” between News Corp‘s UK press arm, News International, and the UK’s Conservative Party. Coulson, who left the tabloid in 2007 and … Read More »
Richard O’Dwyer could become the first British citizen to be extradited to the US on a copyright offense. In 2010, the now 23-year-old came under fire for hosting TVShack, a website that listed links to sites where users could access movies and TV shows – although it did not host any content itself. In January of this year, it was reported that he was facing possible extradition to the US on charges of copyright infringement pending a decision by Britain’s Home Secretary, Theresa May. May has now signed the extradition order after having “carefully considered all relevant matters,” according to a spokesperson, UK media report. The case was brought by the US Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency, which claims TVShack earned more than $230,000 in advertising revenue before it was seized. O’Dwyer previously said he undertook the site as a project to improve his skills and job marketability and that the ad sales were to cover server fees. In January, his attorney said O’Dwyer had done nothing more than Google or Yahoo search engines. O’Dwyer would be extradited under the 2003 Extradition Act that has been criticized for being one-sided. For the UK to extradite someone from the US, Read More »
British Prime Minister David Cameron will visit Pinewood studios today where he is expected to urge filmmakers to ramp up efforts to rival Hollywood by making more “commercially successful pictures.” Cameron’s visit comes just ahead of next week’s release of the findings of a government film policy review overseen by former culture secretary Chris Smith with input from such folk as Downton Abbey creator Julian Fellowes. According to Cameron’s official website, the review is expected to suggest the UK’s Lottery funding scheme be rebalanced to support more mainstream films with commercial potential as well as culturally rewarding films. The news is likely to upset the independent film community, with director Ken Loach already appearing on the BBC today to say: “If you knew what was going to be successful before you made it then we’d all be millionaires. It doesn’t work like that. Public money should go to fund a wide variety of projects and people.” The review is further expected to propose that the British Film Institute reinvest returns into film companies with the most box office success. Read More »
UPDATE, 8:10 PM:
Scotland Yard has blocked the release of the names of several News of the World journalists who ordered a private detective to hack into mobile phones belonging to six public figures. The agency declined comment today but has in the past prevented the release of facts surrounding the case on the grounds its investigation would be compromised. The names could show how widespread the practice was at the paper, which was closed down by Rupert Murdoch last month.
PREVIOUS, 3:54 PM: While Rupert Murdoch and his son James await a likely summons to the UK High Court to answer more questions under oath about News Corp’s involvement in the News of the World phone-hacking scandal, there is a report today that lawyers for News Corp arm News International are looking into reporting practices, financial records and emails at their UK newspapers — specifically to see whether there’s anything there that could be construed as violations of the U.S.’ Foreign Corrupt Practices Act.
Meanwhile, the inquiry at the Royal Courts of Justice that would include questions to Rupert and James Murdoch could get underway by October. Prime Minister David Cameron and other politicians also could be called. A UK Telegraph report said letter already have been sent to potential witnesses, who also could include former News International CEO Rebekah Brooks and Andy Coulson, both former NOTW editors. Read More »
News Corp Shares Plunge 7.1% & BSkyB 7.5% Over UK Scandal Fears
Has UK Phone-Hacking Scandal Sunk Rupert Murdoch’s Biggest Deal?
Shareholders Sue News Corp: Corporate Governance “Culture Run Amok”
In an extraordinary twist, News Corp has done today what it has spent months trying to prevent, and has forced the UK government to refer its £9 billion deal to buy BSkyB outright to anti-trust regulator the Competition Commission. This will delay the deal for months. But crucially, it means that News Corp does not have to drop its bid entirely.
Jeremy Hunt, the UK culture secretary, had no choice but to stand up in the House of Commons this afternoon and announce he was referring the BSkyB deal to the anti-trust regulator. Hunt said the move would address the “abuses of power” that have dogged the biggest deal of Rupert Murdoch’s career. Hunt may have presented what he was doing as a victory for tough government, but the truth is that’s exactly what the Murdochs now want: They believe they will be cleared of having too much media ownership if they buy BSkyB outright. Europe’s anti-trust regulator has already cleared the deal on competition grounds. News Corp has withdrawn its offer to spin off Sky News as a separate entity. Previously, FCC-equivalent Ofcom said that spinning off Sky News would be enough to swing the deal in its eyes.
Hunt is desperately rowing back from his previously sympathetic attitude towards the BSkyB deal. He has ambitions to be Prime Minister and has finally realized that the mushroom cloud rising over News International, News Corp’s UK newspaper arm, could affect his political ambitions, I’m told. Hunt has written to other regulators, asking them whether they want to reconsider their original go-ahead for the bid. Ofcom still has the ability to scupper the deal if it decides that News Corp is not a fit and proper owner for BSkyB. Since its original advice, press regulator the Press Complaints Commission said it was lied to by News International, James Murdoch has admitted serious wrongdoing and there are allegations of a cover-up stretching back to 2007.
BSkyB shares were down 7.5% this afternoon at 694p per share — well under the 700p per share that News Corp originally offered for the 61% of the pay-TV behemoth it does not already own. Read More »
Analysis: Rupert Murdoch Sacrificed News Of The World For BSkyB Deal
UPDATE, 11:35 AM: Ofcom, the UK communications regulator, says it has concerns as to whether News Corp is a fit-and-proper owner for BSkyB in light of the … Read More »
UPDATE, 10 AM: News Corp chairman and CEO Rupert Murdoch has issued a statement on the phone-hacking matter for the first time, calling the allegations that came to light “deplorable and unacceptable.” He also showed support for News International boss Rebekah Brooks, who was the editor at News of the World at the time of the alleged actions. “I have made clear that our company must fully and proactively cooperate with the police in all investigations and that is exactly what News International has been doing and will continue to do under Rebekah Brooks’ leadership,” Murdoch said. In a rare public statement, the News Corp boss said that Joel Klein, CEO of the media giant’s education unit, and independent News Corp director Viet Dinh, a former U.S. assistant attorney general, were keeping News Corp’s New York-based board abreast of the crisis.
Meanwhile, UK Prime Minister David Cameron has promised to set up a public inquiry into phone hacking at Murdoch’s News of the World tabloid. Cameron told the House of Commons this afternoon that allegations over the voicemail of murdered schoolgirl Milly Dowler being hacked were “disgusting”. Executives at News International say they have discovered who authorized the hacking of the then-missing 13-year-old schoolgirl’s phone. Because some messages were deleted, space was freed up on the Dowler’s voicemail, encouraging families to believe she was still alive and listening to messages.
Commercial pressure is also increasing on News Corp. Car manufacturers including Vauxhall, Ford and Mitsubishi have pulled ads from this Sunday’s News of the World because they do not want to be associated with the paper. The deeper question remains how this will affect News Corp’s long-in-the-works takeover of pay-TV giant BSkyB. Cameron dismissed calls for the deal to be blocked because the phone hacking/bribery scandal has nothing to do with the terms of the deal. BSkyB’s board will now try and extract a higher price for the pay-TV behemoth given the increasing uncertainty. The deal may be delayed. Media regulator Ofcom could decide that News Corp is not a “fit and proper” owner of BSkyB. But David Elstein, former programming head of BSkyB, tells me the crisis could perversely work in News Corp’s favor: If News Corp walks away, then BSkyB’s share price would collapse, he says. Murdoch could then come back in six months and lift News Corp’s stake to 50% at less than £7 a share, giving it majority control and a majority on the board. “There are no other buyers for BSkyB,” he reminds me.
PREVIOUS, 7:47 AM: News Corp’s long-in-the-works takeover of BSkyB could be delayed by allegations that Rupert Murdoch’s UK newspaper journalists hacked into the voicemails of families of 7/7 London bombing victims –- as well as that of 13-year-old murder victim Milly Dowler. The board of BSkyB is alarmed by the deepening scandal at Murdoch’s newspaper arm News International, I’m told. (You can imagine the revulsion here — it’s as if journalists at Murdoch’s New York Post hacked into the voicemails of families of 9/11 victims.) Now would not be the right time for News Corp to bid for the 61% stake in the pay-TV behemoth that it does not already own, say insiders.
Read More »