The phone-hacking scandal at a News Corp-owned tabloid was the catalyst for a 16-month probe into UK media ethics, but the conglomerate is unlikely to be affected by today’s disclosure of the inquiry’s findings. “There’s nothing here I can see that changes the business prospects of News Corp”, media analyst Ken Doctor tells Deadline. Wall Street seems to agree: News Corp shares closed up 1.4% today. What’s more, CEO Rupert Murdoch escaped virtually unscathed from the Leveson Inquiry‘s report, which called for an independent, self-regulated press watchdog that can levy hefty fines. But that means nothing “if you’re deep-pocketed enough”, Doctor tells me.
Related: Leveson Inquiry Criticizes News Corp, Calls For Press Self-Regulation
Although Murdoch has lost some of his political clout in the UK, he’s becoming more politically active in the U.S. His “ability to move his power base from Britain, where he exercised great political power, to the U.S. should not be minimized,” Doctor says. For example, this month New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie felt compelled to call Murdoch when the mogul tweeted that Christie’s appearances with President Obama after Hurricane Sandy undermined GOP candidate Mitt Romney. “Christie, while thanking O, must re-declare for Romney, or take blame for next four dire years,” Murdoch wrote. Shortly afterward, The New York Times reported, Christie publicly affirmed his support for Romney. That’s why the response to the UK effort to trim the media’s sails “blows on both sides of the Atlantic, and that’s why undue press power to bully is a core question,” Doctor says. READ MORE »
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 »
Last-Minute Angling Ahead Of UK Media Ethics Report
Lord Justice Brian Leveson‘s report into UK media ethics will be published Thursday. Today, key cross-party figures from the House of Commons and the House of Lords voiced their opposition to statutory control of the newspaper business. In a joint letter to The Guardian and The Daily Telegraph, more than 80 signatories including Downton Abbey creator Julian Fellowes, London Olympics chairman Sebastian Coe and former home secretary David Blunkett, wrote the solution to abuses of the press “is not new laws but a profound restructuring of the self-regulatory system.” But The Guardian also reports that prime minister David Cameron, who had a 24-hour advance look at the report, is likely to reject proposals of a re-jiggered form of self-regulation. The question of whether any form of regulation will be legislated by law remains hotly contentious. Leveson’s recommendations are likely to be strong, though not to the point of insisting on state control over the press. The judge has made clear he does not intend for his report to become another footnote in the history of “failed regulatory systems.” – Joe Utichi
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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:
Metropolitan police detectives have been busy in the past two days, making further arrests in relation to alleged phone and computer hacking at Rupert Murdoch‘s UK press division. A man believed to be former News International legal exec, Tom Crone, was taken into custody this morning, and Patrick Foster, a former journalist at News Corp.’s UK flagship The Times, was arrested yesterday.
Crone’s arrest has not been confirmed by police, but News Corp.-owned Sky News and other media are reporting he is the 60-year-old man detained this morning. The arrest is understood to have resulted from News International’s Management and Standards Committee turning over information to the police, The Guardian reports. Crone was head of legal at the now-shuttered News Of The World. He resigned when the scandal blew up in July 2011. He is also a key player since he claims to have warned former News International chairman James Murdoch that phone-hacking at the paper was not limited to “one rogue reporter.” Read More »
Today’s session of the Leveson Inquiry into UK media ethics was a slightly less riveting affair than yesterday, but there were some highlights. Former Prime Minister John Major told the hearing that in a 1997 meeting with Rupert Murdoch, the media mogul said, “I would like you to change your policy and if you don’t change your policy, my organization cannot support you.” According to Major, Murdoch was referring to stances on Europe. In his written statement to the inquiry, Major said, “Both Mr Murdoch and I kept our word. I made no change in policy and Mr Murdoch’s titles did indeed oppose the Conservative party. It came as no surprise to me when soon after our meeting, The Sun newspaper announced its support for Labour.” Referring to Major’s evidence, a News International spokesperson said, “News International titles did not act in unison in the 1997 election. The Sunday Times supported John Major, The Times was neutral, and The Sun and the News Of The World supported Labour.” Read More »
UK Prime Minister David Cameron said he won’t launch a probe into whether Culture Minister Jeremy Hunt breached the ministerial code of conduct for Hunt’s part in overseeing News Corp’s ultimately failed bid for BSkyB. Hunt has been in the spotlight for his supposed close ties to News Corp’s Rupert Murdoch and son James, which raised eyebrows when he was handed a quasi-judicial role overseeing the $14B bid for the 61% of BSkyB that News Corp didn’t already own. During Hunt’s testimony today before the Leveson Inquiry charged with investigating UK media ethics, it was revealed he texted his congratulations to James Murdoch in December 2010 after News Corp’s bid cleared a regulatory hurdle. “Congratulations on Brussels,” Hunt texted to Murdoch after the European Commission ruled it would not block a deal. “Only Ofcom to go.” Not long after, Hunt was appointed the government overseer of the bid, which was scrapped in July as the phone-hacking scandal at News Corp-owned tabloid News Of The World erupted. Hunt told the inquiry today he would not have sent the text if he had known he was getting the overseer role. After watching Hunt today, Cameron said the Culture Minister acted “properly” throughout the period he was responsible for the bid.
Related: UK Culture Secretary Jeremy Hunt To Turn Over Emails, Texts On BSkyB Bid Process Read More »
Breaking News … Refresh for latest live-blogging from London …
Although both James and Rupert Murdoch were expected to be giving evidence this week with regard to the phone hacking scandal, the whole process has taken a decidedly different tack. The fallout from James’ testimony on Tuesday resulted in the resignation of a top Parliamentary aide on Wednesday and a growing brouhaha inside Prime Minister David Cameron’s government. Culture Secretary Jeremy Hunt’s aide, Adam Smith, resigned after emails read on Tuesday showed a possibly inappropriate relationship between the minister’s office and James Murdoch during the BSkyB bid process. Hunt asked Lord Justice Brian Leveson to move up his scheduled testimony date but Leveson said yesterday he was going to continue with his planned timetable. Hunt will appear before the inquiry in May while Cameron and Tony Blair are expected in May or June. Also, the FSA, Britain’s equivalent to the SEC, is understood to be examining whether the email exchanges constitute market abuse. Rupert Murdoch’s testimony on Wednesday was squarely focused on his relationship to politicians. Day two of his evidence will begin soon and should last for a couple of hours this morning. It’s possible they’ll get to the phone hacking scandal today. All times below are UK local time.
10:09 Counsel Robert Jay asks Murdoch about David Yelland, editor of The Sun in the late 1990s. Yelland once said in an interview that “all Murdoch editors go on a journey where they end up agreeing with everything Rupert says…You look at the world through Rupert’s eyes.”
Murdoch: “I understand what you’re saying but I think it’s nonsense and should be taken in the context of Yeland’s strange autobiography,” in which he admits he was drunk most of the time at The Sun.
Murdoch: “I certainly do take part in the policy decisions of The Sun, I think that’s my job.”
Murdoch: “Generally speaking, the issues that we get interested in and fight for you’ll find them in The Sun and you’ll find that I would agree with most of them if not all.
10:12 Jay turns to Murdoch’s relationship with politicians and asks if they would know what Murdoch is thinking or his views by knowing him over time.
“I really only see very little of them. I’m only in this country less than 10% of my time…And, I think they know my philosophy, yes.” Read More »