LONDON, May 1, 2012 (AFP) – A scathing British parliamentary report said Tuesday that Rupert Murdoch had shown “wilful blindness” over phone hacking at his News of the World tabloid and was not fit to run a major company.
The 81-year-old tycoon’s British newspaper wing, News International, also misled parliament during its inquiry into the scandal at the News of the World, which Murdoch closed down in disgrace in July 2011, the committee found.
“Rupert Murdoch is not a fit person to exercise the stewardship of a major international company,” the cross-party culture media and sport committee said in its long-awaited report on the scandal.
“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,” it concluded.
“This culture, we consider, permeated from the top.”
Rupert’s son and heir apparent James Murdoch, 39, was guilty of “wilful ignorance” about the scale of hacking at the newspaper, which “clearly raises questions of competence” on his part, the report added.
The 121-page report also singled out former News Corporation executive chairman Les Hinton, former News of the World legal manager Tom Crone and the newspaper’s final editor Colin Myler as having misled the committee.
The panel said it was now for parliament’s lower House of Commons to decide “what punishment should be imposed” on those it thinks have treated the committee with contempt.
The 11-member committee was however split six to four — with the chairman not voting — as members of Prime Minister David Cameron’s Conservative party refused to endorse its conclusions.
Murdoch’s US-based News Corp. empire said it was “carefully reviewing” the report and would “respond shortly.”
“The company fully acknowledges significant wrongdoing at News of the World and apologizes to everyone whose privacy was invaded,” it said in a statement.
The News of the World was shut down as the phone-hacking scandal exploded with revelations that the tabloid had hacked the voicemails of a missing schoolgirl who was later found murdered.
Rupert and James — who was News International’s chairman and chief executive — both gave evidence to the committee on July 19 last year, when Murdoch senior was attacked with a shaving foam pie by a comedian.
The lawmakers on the panel found that News International instinctively sought to cover up rather than seek out wrongdoing in the company.
The report said the integrity and effectiveness of parliamentary committees relied on the “truthfulness and completeness” of evidence submitted.
“The behaviour of News International and certain witnesses in this affair demonstrated contempt for that system in the most blatant fashion,” it concluded.
“Corporately, the News of the World and News International misled the committee about the true nature and extent of the internal investigations they professed to have carried out in relation to phone hacking,” the report concluded.
This was done by “making statements they would have known were not fully truthful and failing to disclose documents which would have helped expose the truth,” the committee said.
“Their instinct throughout, until it was too late, was to cover up rather than seek out wrongdoing and discipline the perpetrators, as they also professed they would do after the criminal convictions.
At a press conference after the publication of the report, opposition Labour lawmaker and leading News International critic Tom Watson said it was disappointing that the committee had not been able to vote unanimously.
“The story is not yet over. These people corrupted our country. They brought shame on our police force and our parliament,” Watson said.
But illustrating the divisions, Conservative committee member Louise Mensch complained the report was “partisan.”
Phone hacking at the News of the World came to the fore in the trial of its royal correspondent Clive Goodman and Glenn Mulcaire, a private investigator, who were jailed in 2007 for illegally accessing voicemails.
Scotland Yard reopened an investigation into hacking and other malpractice in January 2011 in which more than 40 people have been arrested, while a judicial inquiry into the scandal is also under way.
News International has meanwhile paid out millions of pounds in compensation to hacking victims.