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1 May 2012updated 02 May 2012 10:37am

The Tories come to Murdoch’s defence

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

By George Eaton

“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.

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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.