The Tories come to Murdoch's defence

Tory MPs vote against main criticism of Murdoch in select committee report.

"Rupert Murdoch is not a fit person to exercise the stewardship of a major international company." That's the sternly-worded conclusion of the media select committee report into phone-hacking. It's a judgement that will do Murdoch no favours in the US, News Corp's main market, where his company is facing new lawsuits over hacking and a possible prosecution under the powerful US foreign corrupt practices act. "British MPs say Murdoch is unfit to run his own company," is a better headline than the Dirty Digger's many enemies could ever have hoped for.

Here's that damning paragraph in full (from p.70):

On the basis of the facts and evidence before the Committee, we conclude that, if at all relevant times Rupert Murdoch did not take steps to become fully informed about phone-hacking, he turned a blind eye and exhibited wilful blindness to what was going on in his companies and publications. This culture, we consider, permeated from the top throughout the organisation and speaks volumes about the lack of effective corporate governance at News Corporation and News International. We conclude, therefore, that Rupert Murdoch is not a fit person to exercise the stewardship of a major international company (emphasis mine).

Of note is the fact that the committee split along party lines on whether to insert the paragraph into the report. Indeed, as a result, they divided on whether to endorse the final report. Labour MPs Tom Watson, Paul Farrelly, Steve Rotheram, Jim Sherdian and Gerry Sutcliffe, and Liberal Democrat MP Adrian Sanders all voted in favour of it, while Conservative MPs Therese Coffey, Damian Collins, Philip Davies and Louise Mensch voted against (see below). The committee's Conservative chair John Whittingdale has indicated that he would likely have voted with the Tories if required to cast the deciding vote.

The Committee divided.

Ayes, 6
Paul Farrelly (Labour)
Steve Rotheram (Labour)
Mr Adrian Sanders (Liberal Democrat)
Jim Sheridan (Labour)
Mr Gerry Sutcliffe (Labour)
Mr Tom Watson (Labour)

Noes, 4
Dr Thérèse Coffey (Conservative)
Damian Collins (Conservative)
Philip Davies (Conservative)
Louise Mensch (Conservative)

The Tories would probably argue that it's not the place of politicians to say who should or shouldn't run one of the world's most successful media companies but it will do little to dispel the public suspicion that they are in hock to the Murdoch empire. 

However, it's worth remembering that the committee unanimously agreed that former News of the World editor Colin Myler (who now edits the New York Daily News), former News International legal manager Tom Crone and former News International chief executive Les Hinton misled parliament with their testimony in the summer. The Commons motion on the report will focus on this charge, rather than the criticism of Murdoch, presumably allowing the Tories to vote with Labour and the Lib Dems.

Labour is using this as an opportunity to refocus attention on Ofcom's current review of whether News Corporation is "fit and proper" to hold a broadcasting licence. If found to be an unfit and improper owner, Murdoch could lose his existing 39 per cent stake in BSkyB.

Reflections of Rupert Murdoch and Wendi Deng as they leave the High Court, London on April 26, 2012 Photograph: Getty Images.

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

Photo: Getty
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As crime moves online, the police need the investment in technology to follow

Technology offers solutions, not just threats.

It’s perhaps inevitable that as the world becomes more digital, so does crime. This week Alison Saunders, director of public prosecutions, recognised that online crime is as serious as face-to-face crime. “Hate is hate,” Saunders wrote referring to internet abuse, and the police should protect people from it wherever they are. This will add demand to under-pressure police forces. And it is only the tip of the iceberg. 

Forty-seven per cent of crime involves an online element. Police recorded 30,000 instances of online stalking and harassment last year. People are 20 times more likely to be a victim of fraud than robbery, costing businesses an estimated £144bn a year. On a conservative estimate, 2,500 UK citizens use the anonymous dark web browser, Tor, for illegal purposes such as drug dealing, revenge porn and child sexual exploitation.

The police need new technology to meet demand, a Reform report published today finds. Some progress has been made in recent years. West Midlands Police uses an online portal for people to report incidents. Durham uses evidence-gathering software to collect social media information on suspects, and then instantly compile a report that can be shared with courts. Police have benefited from smartphones to share information, and body-worn cameras, which have reduced complaints against police by 93 per cent.

Yet, Theresa May’s 2016 remarks that police use “technology that lags woefully behind what they use as consumers” still stand. Officers interviewed for Reform’s research implored: “Give us the tools to do our job”.

Online evidence portals should be upgraded to accept CCTV footage. Apps should be developed to allow officers to learn about new digital threats, following the US army’s library of knowledge-sharing apps. Augmented-reality glasses are being used in the Netherlands to help officers identify evidence at digital crime scenes. Officers would save a trip back to the station if they could collect fingerprints on smartphones and statements on body-worn cameras.

New technology requires investment, but forces are reducing the resources put into IT as reserves have dried up. Durham plans to cut spend by 60 per cent between 2015-16 and 2019-20. The government should help fund equipment which can meet demand and return future productivity savings. If the Home Office invested the same as the Department of Health, another department pushing “transformative” technology, it would invest an extra £450m a year. This funding should come from administrative savings delivered through accelerating the Government’s automation agenda, which the think tank Reform has previously calculated would save Whitehall £2.6bn a year.

As crime moves online, police must follow. Saunders is right to point to the importance of meeting it. But technology offers solutions, not just threats. Installing the next generation of equipment will give police the tools to do their jobs, addressing online hate and more. 

Alexander Hitchcock is a senior researcher at reform