News Corp

Kiran Stacey

Two text message exchanges stand out from this morning’s Leveson testimony by Jeremy Hunt, both sent on the day we found out that Vince Cable had told undercover reporters he had “declared war on Murdoch”.

The first was one sent by the culture secretary to James Murdoch. Referring to the European Commission’s decision to let the News Corp’s bid for BSkyB proceed, Hunt texted Murdoch:

Congrats on Brussels. Only Ofcom to go.

 

Kiran Stacey

In the light of what we learned yesterday about Jeremy Hunt’s strong views that the News Corp bid for BSkyB should go ahead, it is interesting to read these guidelines from the Competition Commission on the standards to which their staff should be held.

The Competition Commission, was of course, one of the bodies that could have ended up examining the bid, just as Hunt was when he was asked to make a “quasi-judicial” judgement on whether it should go ahead.

The CC tells its staff (emphasis mine):

There may be instances where a CC member or staff member has or appears to have prejudged the outcome of an inquiry. Circumstances in which prejudgement might arise would include those in which an article had been written or speech made expressing strong views about a particular merger or market.

 

Jim Pickard

Andy Coulson at the Leveson Inquiry This was the FT’s live blog on the Leveson Inquiry on May 10th, 2012. Andy Coulson, former News of the World editor and head of communications at Number 10, was testifying. Written by Kiran Stacey (KS) and Jim Pickard (JP).

4.34pm KS: The Andy Coulson session has now wrapped up. Ben Fenton has written this story for the FT. He writes:

Andy Coulson, the former tabloid editor who became David Cameron’s spokesman, rejected on Thursday the idea that politicians in Downing Street had become too close to the press.

These are the other interesting details to emerge from today’s session:

  1. Coulson admitted he “may have” seen Top Secret documents and definitely did attend National Security Council meetings, even though he did not have top-level security clearance.
  2. Coulson had shares worth around £40,000 in News Corp while working for Number 10. This story was broken by the Independent on Sunday, whose editor was summoned to Leveson today to explain how they had got the story.
  3. David Cameron did not ask Coulson about his knowledge of the phone hacking activites of Glen Mulcaire and Clive Goodman even after the Guardian revealed the practice was more widespread than originally claimed.

This is Ben Fenton’s conclusion:

Andy Coulson was never going to be asked the toughest questions about his time at Number 10 because they would have conflicted with his status as a man on police bail.

But while he played a dead bat to everything, with a litany of “I don’t believes…I don’t recalls…” there were still some difficult moments in his verbal and written evidence.

We know he saw top secret material without supervision, which he shouldn’t have done, that he held News Corp shares but didn’t imagine there was any possible conflict of interest and that David Cameron did not ask him for further assurances that he knew nothing about the phone hacking offences at his paper even after The Guardian, in July
2009, produced evidence that it was widespread.

 

Rupert Murdoch  

Rupert Murdoch

It will be a shame if bitter and partisan debate over whether Rupert Murdoch is “a fit person to exercise the stewardship of a major international company” obscures the more important conclusion of the UK parliament’s culture, media and sport committee on phone-hacking: that he and his son James were wilfully blind to what was going on.

Whether BSkyB, controlled by the Murdoch-owned News Corp, is a “fit and proper” owner of a broadcasting licence is a question for Ofcom, the regulator, which has now entered an “evidence-gathering” phase of its probe.

 

Esther Bintliff

A combination of still images from broadcast footage shows News Corporation Chief Executive and Chairman, Rupert Murdoch, speaking at the Leveson Inquiry into the culture, practices and ethics of the media, at the High Court in London April 25, 2012. REUTERS/POOL via Reuters TV

REUTERS/POOL via Reuters TV

Welcome to our live coverage of the Leveson Inquiry into the standards and ethics of the UK press, on the second day when Rupert Murdoch, chairman and chief executive of News Corp, gave evidence.

By Esther Bintliff, Salamander Davoudi and Tim Bradshaw in London, with contributions from FT correspondents. All times London time.

NB: We refer to Rupert Murdoch as Rupert throughout for speed and to avoid confusion with his son James. Jay is Robert Jay QC, who is questioning Rupert.

16.45 What were the most interesting things that Rupert said today? Here’s a selection of three key moments. Let us know your thoughts in the comments.

  • “The News of the World, quite honestly, was an aberration, and it’s my fault”. Rupert said this in the context of defending his other newspapers and their integrity, thus characterising the NOTW as a sort of rogue newspaper – just as he once relied on the “rogue reporter” argument. However, it’s also noticeable that he appeared to take responsibility – “it’s my fault”. He would later say he was “sorry he didn’t close [the NOTW] years before”.
  • “I think the senior executives were all informed, and I — were all misinformed and shielded from anything that was going on there, and I do blame one or two people for that, who perhaps I shouldn’t name, because for all I know they may be arrested yet, but there’s no question in my mind that maybe even the editor, but certainly beyond that someone took charge of a cover-up, which we were victim to…” This is where Rupert effectively accuses “one or two” people at the News of the World of organising a cover-up of the extent of phonehacking at the newspaper.
  • “It’s a common thing in life, way beyond journalism, for people to say, ‘I’ll scratch your back if you scratch my back’”. It was as if Rupert momentarily let the veil fall when he made this offhand comment, giving a sense into what his critics might say is ‘the real Rupert’. Robert Jay QC was quick to jump on the remark, saying: “You said it was a common thing in life… and that’s true, that’s human nature, but it’s interesting that you say that’s no part of the implied deal in your relations with politicians over 30 years, Mr Murdoch. Is that right?” Rupert saw the trap and took evasive action: “I don’t ask any politician to scratch my back… That’s a nice twist, but no, I’m not falling for it.”

 

AP Photo/Mark Lennihan

Welcome to our live coverage of the Leveson Inquiry into the standards and ethics of the UK press, on the day when Rupert Murdoch, chairman and chief executive of News Corp, is giving evidence.

By Esther Bintliff and Salamander Davoudi in London, with contributions from FT correspondents. All times London time.

NB: We refer to Rupert Murdoch as Rupert throughout for speed and to avoid confusion with his son James. Jay is Robert Jay QC, who is questioning Rupert.

16.40 We’re going to close the blog for now, but as ever we’ll have more news and analysis for you on FT.com.

And we’ll leave you with the latest development: officials at the FSA are interested in the News Corp emails that were published yesterday, and in particular an email sent by Fred Michel, News Corp’s director of public affairs, in which he described obtaining “absolutely illegal” information from Adam Smith, an adviser to Jeremy Hunt. Read the full story here.

16.15 So, today’s session was shorter than expected, and Rupert’s evidence did not really yield any explosive revelations of the level that James did yesterday. But it’s important to remember that in his questioning of Rupert, Robert Jay QC was largely focused on the decades in the run-up to the two most controversial issues for News Corp (i.e. the phonehacking scandal and the bid for BSkyB) rather than addressing those issues directly – he will presumably concentrate on phonehacking and BSkyB tomorrow.

Thus Jay spent a lot of time asking Rupert about key moments for the business during the 1980s and 1990s; his relationship with different political leaders; and his varying levels of editorial influence over the newspapers.

One could imagine that Jay’s strategy here was to lay the ground – very thoroughly – to then better understand Rupert’s/News Corp’s approach to the more recent issues, and to show whether there was any historical precedent for the behaviour that the company engaged in as it tried to get regulatory approval for its bid for the remaining shares in BSkyB.  

James Murdoch as he arrives at the Leveson Inquiry on Tuesday. (Photo by Peter Macdiarmid/Getty Images)

Welcome to our live coverage of the Leveson Inquiry into the standards and ethics of the UK press, on the day when James Murdoch is giving evidence.

By Salamander Davoudi and Esther Bintliff in London, with contributions from FT correspondents. All times GMT.

NB: We refer to James Murdoch as James throughout for speed and to avoid confusion with his father Rupert. Jay is Robert Jay QC, who is questioning James.

16.33 Wow that’s been a big day. We’re going to close the live blog for now but we’ll be back tomorrow morning just before 10am, for Rupert Murdoch’s appearance. In the meantime, FT.com will have all the news, analysis and comment you need. You can also investigate the documents mentioned during today’s proceedings here.

16.30 Members of the opposition Labour party are not being slow to voice their anger at the revelations today. Ivan Lewis, the former Labour culture spokesman – and Jeremy Hunt’s opposite number at a key time during the BSkyB bid - commented:

“Jeremy Hunt told me in parliament he was behaving in quasi judicial way. This cannot include off-record contact with any party.”

16.26 Labour MP Tom Watson – who has played a large role in investigating the phonehacking scandal, and is a vocal critic of the Murdochs and News Corp business practises – said in an interview with ITV news:

“I don’t think people knew the depths to which special advisors had been communicating with executives” at News International.

16.23 Over on the FT’s Business Blog, John Gapper focuses on the issue of whether newspaper proprietors get favourable treatment in business in return for publicly supporting politicians. He points out that the most telling moment on the subject today was when James described his anger at Simon Kelner, the editor of the Independent, who he clearly felt had betrayed the Murdoch family:

“I found Mr Kelner and I told him of my concerns, whether I used colourful language I will not dispute … I was particularly upset because Mr Kelner had been availing himself of the hospitality of my family for years.”

16.21 The prime minister’s spokesman said David Cameron has full confidence in Jeremy Hunt, reports Kiran Stacey from Westminster:

When asked if the PM had full confidence in Mr Hunt, a spokesman said he had. But he declined to say that Mr Cameron had full confidence in Mr Hunt’s handling of the BSkyB bid.

16.19 Jeremy Hunt has not tweeted today. However the first little bit of his update from yesterday – which coincided with the launch of the World Shakespeare festival – has a strange relevance today:

[blackbirdpie url="https://twitter.com/#!/Jeremy_Hunt/status/194426439305674752"] 

Kiran Stacey

This is what happened to BSkyB’s shares just after the government announced it would back Labour’s motion on Wednesday calling for Rupert Murdoch to abandon his bid for the shares in the company he does not already own:

BSkyB share price 

Kiran Stacey

This live blog was published on Tuesday July 12th.

Sue Akers

Sue Akers

MPs on the home affairs select committee questioned senior members of the Metropolitan police service about phone hacking. This morning, John Yates and Andy Hayman were both questioned. Sue Akers, in charge of Operation Weeting, the current investigation into hacking, was the last to testify.

14.25: Akers has now finished. She had a much smoother ride than Hayward or Yates – unsurprisingly given her investigation is ongoing.

Here is the final roundup of what happened today:

  • Yates admitted he spent only eight hours reviewing the 11,000 documents collated by the first investigation when deciding not to review it. He admitted “there was an element” of doing the bare minimum of work when making this decision;
  • Yates refused to bow to calls for his resignation, saying he played a “tiny part” int he whole affair;
  • Hayman rebutted claims he refused to push his investigation further because News International journalists had details of an affair he was having, calling the allegation “terribly grubby”;
  • Hayman said his role as a columnist for The Times did not reflect on his role as a policeman, saying it had been a “boyhood dream” to be a journalist;
  • Operation Weeting, the current investigation into hacking, will contact all the 4,000 people who appear in the notebook of Glenn Mulcaire, the private investigator previously used to hack phones by the News of the World. But only 170 have so far been contacted.

That’s the end of our live blog

 

Just imagine the decision had gone the other way. Just imagine that the coalition had waved through News Corp‘s proposed £8.2bn bid to take British Sky Broadcasting private.

The story now would be about David Cameron overruling his coalition partners as well as his officials, shunning the need for an independent assessment of a complex competition issue, all in order to intervene on behalf of the most powerful media dynasty in the English speaking world.