Rupert Murdoch

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.”

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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.  Read more

Kiran Stacey

Parliament took centre stage today in the phone hacking scandal when Rebekah Brooks answered MPs’ questions about phone hacking. Earlier, Rupert and James Murdoch gave their testimonies.

19.30: Nearly five hours after we began, we have finally finished this afternoon’s testimony from Rebekah Brooks and the Murdochs to the culture, media and sport select committee. Here’s what happened:

  • All three offered apologies for what happened at the NotW. Rupert Murdoch called it “The most humble day of my life.”
  • RM initially struggled under the questioning, failing to hear some of the questions and claiming not to have been in touch with his newspapers very much.
  • James Murdoch gave long and complex answers to many of the questions, but in essence, he said he knew nothing about how widespread phone hacking was. He defended the company’s payment to Gordon Taylor, an alleged hacking victim, saying it was based on legal advice that it would lose its civil case.
  • JM also admitted there had been internal discussions in News International about setting up a “Sun on Sunday”.
  • RM admitted to paying the legal expenses of Andy Coulson, Clive Goodman and even Glenn Mulcaire at various stages, including for the 2006 hacking trial and the Tommy Sheridan trial.
  • Both RM and JM emphasised the failings of their external lawyers, Harbottle & Lewis, who claimed there was no evidence of phone hacking happening any more widely than by Clive Goodman.
  • Most dramatically, the hearing was interrupted when a protester tried to push a custard pie into RM‘s face. He was repelled by police and Wendi Deng, RM‘s wife.
  • Rebekah Brooks said she knew nothing about Milly Dowler’s phone being hacked until she read it in the Guardian.
  • RB said she went to Number 10 more under Blair and Brown than under Cameron.
  • RB refuted the idea that she pushed Andy Coulson into his job as Tory communications director. She said the idea came from George Osborne.

So who won and who lost today?

Winners:

James Murdoch He was smooth, he was corporate, he didn’t say anything he shouldn’t have. He was also evasive and often nonsensical, but he stuck well to his brief.

Rebekah Brooks Came across well: was softly spoken and humble, while also vigorously denying any knowledge of criminal activity.

Wendi Deng Repelled an attacker, and was praised by Tom Watson for her left hook.

Tom Watson Got the tone spot on. Calm but insistent, with specific and forensic questions. The best of the questioners.

Losers:

Rupert Murdoch Looked all over the place. Struggled to hear some questions, didn’t seem to understand others. At times, however, he was refreshingly candid, such as when he admitted that Les Hinton might have authorised paying the legal costs of Glenn Mulcaire and Clive Goodman. That might get him in trouble though.

Harbottle & Lewis The lawyers brought in by News International were named again and again as the organisation that failed to follow up on evidence of widespread hacking. The firm is under a duty of confidentiality however, and cannot respond.

 

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Kiran Stacey

The lists are out. We now know everyone who has been to Chequers since the election, and separately, every media figure the prime minister has met in that time.

Of interest:

  • James Murdoch has stayed at Chequers recently, and Rebekah Brooks stayed twice last year. (Incidentally, so has the Qatari prime minister – the only foreign dignitary to do so.)
  • We know that Cameron met Brooks over Christmas socially, but apparently there was another meeting in December – although we are not given details of where or when.
  • Rupert Murdoch was the first media figure to talk to Cameron after the election – but we already knew that.
  • Six out of Cameron’s first ten media meetings after winning the election were with people News International.

Of interest, but not mentioned in these lists: Andy Coulson stayed at Chequers in March, two months after quitting Number 10.

Here are the full details:

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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 Read more

Kiran Stacey

Andy Coulson, former head of communications to David Cameron in Number 10, has been arrested for phone hacking and corruption. This came less than an hour after a press conference at which David Cameron came close to calling for Rebekah Brooks’ resignation.

Andy Coulson

Andy Coulson (c) Getty Images

11.56: We’re going to shut down the live blog now, but keep an eye on the FT website for regular updates on this story throughout the day. Here is a final roundup of today’s events:

  • Andy Coulson, the former head of communications to David Cameron, has been arrested on charges of phone hacking and corruption.
  • David Cameron has defended his decision to appoint Coulson, saying he wanted to give him a second chance.
  • But Cameron came close to calling for the head of Rebekah Brooks, News International’s chief executive, saying if he had been offered her resignation he would have taken it.
  • There will be two public enquiries into phone hacking: one led by a judge looking at specific allegations of hacking; the other at wider media ethics.
  • The second, broader enquiry will look at a replacement for the Press Complaints Commission, marking an effective end to the PCC.

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Kiran Stacey

Apparently sensational news from News International – this Sunday will see the last edition of the News of the World. Drastic action, so it seems, to distance the company once and for all from the hacking saga.

One note of caution: Michael White at the Guardian predicts this is a move to help the company streamline operations, and that it will launch a seven-day Sun, which would be the NotW in all but name.

I have no idea whether that is the case. But for now, here is NI’s full statement:

News International today announces that this Sunday, 10 July 2011, will be the last issue of the News of the World.

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Kiran Stacey

I wrote yesterday that David Cameron and the Tories in general are finding themselves on the wrong side of public opinion over phone hacking. Some think it is far worse than that.

Peter Oborne has written columns in both the Spectator and the Telegraph today ripping into Cameron and his government for their ties to News International. In a piece for The Telegraph headlined David Cameron is in the sewer because of his News International friends, Oborne says phone hacking will be as damaging for Cameron as Iraq was for Tony Blair. He says:

David Cameron, who has returned from Afghanistan as a profoundly damaged figure, now faces exactly such a crisis. The series of disgusting revelations concerning his friends and associates from Rupert Murdoch’s News International has permanently and irrevocably damaged his reputation.

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Coverage as it happened of Wednesday’s prime minister’s questions and the parliamentary debate on phone hacking at the News of the World. The debate followed shock allegations that the tabloid hacked into the mobile phone of murdered schoolgirl Milly Dowler. Read more