Murdoch, BSkyB, & the “Fit and Proper Person” Test

So, The News of the World (NOW) apologises for breaking the law. Like most who undertake criminal activity, those who apologise are normally sorry for being caught rather than for actually breaking the law.

Its also clear that NOW’s policy now is to admit liability and so prevent full disclosure of who ordered what from being disclosed in court – admitting liability means the court is limited to judging costs rather than investigating guilt. Equally importantly, NOW is also seeking to limit the timeframe (2004-6) and therefore the number of people thought to be involved. By doing so, Rebekah Brooks’ (nee Wade) tenure as editor of NOW would be excluded from the scandal, as Brooks is a key figure (chief executive) in NOW parent company News International. However, the Guardian reports that there are allegations that hacking was undertaken as early as 2002/3 – when Brooks was more fully involved in NOW.

Murdoch, it has been suggested, has known for sometime that his employees were guilty of criminality – his alleged attempt to get the then PM, Gordon Brown, to “cool [the] hacking enquiry” would support this viewpoint if its true. It also raises the important question of how far up the chain of command knowledge and complicity in the criminality went. A further question is how far News International witnesses before the various Commons committees were fully truthful in their claims that hacking was limited to a sole, rogue reporter.

The key consideration for Murdoch of course is the proposed BSkyB acquisition – Jeremy Hunt, the Culture Secretary says this scandal has no bearing upon the decision. Yet, there is surely a consideration now of whether News International can be said to be pass the “fit and proper person” test.  Frankly,  there’s a bad smell surrounding News International – at best its top management is incompetent (if they were really clueless about the extent of the hacking at NOW) or were complicit in sanctioning gross criminality. The law regarding corporate responsibility must also apply in these circumstances – surely executives who connived in, or commissioned, criminality should be prosecuted?

Finally, the NOW hacking scandal reveals an even more troubling conspiracy. It would appear that the phones of Government ministers, of front bench ranking, were hacked. Tessa Jowell was Culture Secretary – hacking her phone is akin to industrial espionage, given her role in decisions over media ownership, for example. There’s also the suggestion the Gordon Brown’s phone was hacked when he was Chancellor – again, industrial espionage at best, at worst an attack on the integrity of the British government and worthy of old style foreign espionage.

The fact that NOW staff had the gall to undertake such action speaks of an organisation that believed itself above the law – indeed, the derisory investigations of the Metropolitan Police would seem to show that the Murdoch gang were indeed above the law, or that the law was in their pocket. If Murdoch did indeed attempt the “nobble” the enquiry via Gordon Brown, that also shows the reach of the Dirty Digger’s empire.

The implications of the NOW scandal are more important than the MP expenses scandal, since it goes to the heart of where political power resides in the UK. Very few MPs could “ask” the PM to nobble such an enquiry, or expect the Met Police to roll over so easily. Indeed, some MPs are facing prison – how many News International executives will do porridge? None!

One thought on “Murdoch, BSkyB, & the “Fit and Proper Person” Test

  1. Wow! How prescient are you? You should repost this somewhere. It’s a darned solid analysis and a refreshingly objective one too.

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