The culmination of one of the most high-profile and prolonged select committee inquiries has rightly seen News International severely criticised for the widespread phone-hacking that took place and its handling of the aftermath. The culture, media and sport select committee select committee has been looking at this issue for many years, going back to the Operation Motorman reports and the initial phone-hacking allegations. Along with dogged campaigning from the Guardian, Mark Lewis, the legal representative of many of the victims, and others, we have kept this in the public eye and contributed to what will hopefully be the wholesale clearing up of the British press. I think that without our inquiries, the Leveson inquiry, which I was pressing Cameron and Clegg to set up very early on, would have been less likely and the Metropolitan Police may not have reopened its investigation.
Our report is still very much at the beginning of the end of this story. The Leveson process will make wide-ranging proposals on how to clean up journalism and, hopefully, thanks to our investigation and recommendations, this process will have better material and perspective from the News International aspect. The police and potential judicial process also has to run its course.
We can, however, make some very clear conclusions already and our work should contribute to Leveson, inform Ofcom and, more immediately, prompt debate in Parliament. It is clear that News International executives misled the committee and we must not lose sight of that. But as the report concluded, “if at all 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.”
Some have argued that going further and concluding that Murdoch is not “fit” to exercise the stewardship of a major international company detracted from the report and highlighted a committee split along party lines. What would others have said if the votes had gone the other way with the coalition MPs on one side and Labour on the other? That would just as surely have been portrayed as a split along party lines.
Ever since the Murdochs appeared before the committee, the narrative of our inquiry, especially in the public’s view, has been on their behaviour; I don’t think commenting on their competence detracts from the very serious issue of the other executives clearly misleading Parliament. Unlike the preconceived ideas others may have had in approaching this inquiry, I have been very careful to read the volumes of evidence we have gathered before taking decisions on which way to go in the final report. As a whole, the amendments weren’t as split along party lines as has been portrayed. For example, only two Conservatives voted against the conclusion that James Murdoch’s competence should be called into question.
What is ultimately most important is for the media to never experience such a scandal again. A result of this entire process must be a press that is trusted by the public and is independently regulated. The Press Complaints Commission clearly had failings, one of which was the number of editors on its board; consequently I referred to it in the House as being as useful as a fishnet condom. A new body that is free from the influence of editors, executives and politicians must be far more rigorous in pursuing complaints and potential wrongdoing. That said, one benefit I hope this whole process will have is that the press will never again be tempted to resort to such illegal measures in order to make a quick profit.
Adrian Sanders is the Liberal Democrat MP for Torbay and a member of the House of Commons culture, media and sport committee.