The latest development in the growing scandal surrounding its British newspaper operations has Rupert Murdoch’s News Corporation announcing that it is dropping its $12 billion bid for the shares it does not already own in British Sky Broadcasting, also known as BSkyB.
This latest development shows how damaging the phone hacking scandal at Mr. Murdoch’s British newspaper chain has been to his company and his cozy and influential relationship with the British establishment, including prominent politicians. Scarcely hours before, British prime minister David Cameron sought to distance himself from Mr. Murdoch, urging him to drop his bid for BSkyB, and the British Parliament seemed about to approve a call for Mr. Murdoch to abandon his takeover of the lucrative satellite broadcaster.
Moreover, Mr. Cameron offered details today of a public inquiry. He said the inquiry would be led by a senior judge and would examine the ethics and culture of the British media. Accusations of phone hacking at The News of the World, which underlie the scandal, will also be examined, and reasons/explanations sought as to why the initial police inquiry did not reveal the extent of the scandal. Mr. Cameron claimed he wanted the inquiry to be:
“as robust as possible, one that can get to the truth fastest and get to work the quickest, and one that commands the full confidence of the public.”
Don’t count on this, folks. This whole mess stinks.
Until recently, Mr. Cameron had a close working relationship with Andy Coulson, a former editor of the recently defunct News of the World who became Cameron’s director of communications. Mr. Coulson was forced to resign from the tabloid when the phone hacking scandal was heating up, and was one of three men arrested as part of a police investigation into the scandal and corruption allegations.
Why would the prime minister ever have hired a senior staffer from a newspaper with such a sordid reputation? Mr. Cameron’s outrage does not impress me in the least—I believe it’s feigned, at least, for the most part.
There’s also the question of complicity of Rebekah Brooks, chief executive of News International and former editor of the News of the World. She has told lawmakers she had “no knowledge whatsoever” of any phone hacking while she was editor, according to a letter published by Britain’s home affairs select committee on Saturday. An experienced newspaper person like her, not questioning the sources of her paper’s stories? I don’t believe her.
Ms. Brooks was a friend of former prime minister Tony Blair and his wife, Cherie. Her 2009 wedding was reportedly attended by another former prime minister, Gordon Brown, and by Prime Minister David Cameron, who has socialized with Brooks on other occasions—apparently, they have homes near each other in Oxfordshire, have gone horse riding together, and have had dinner at each others’ homes. Birds of a feather?
Even if Rebekah Brooks and her boss Rupert Murdoch did not know the details of their papers’ intrusion into personal lives, they should have known and should be held responsible for the damage done.
There’s an odour from this affair that clings to media baron Rupert Murdoch and David Cameron alike. Their close association with people from the gutter press brings into question their personal morality and ethical standards. And I doubt even a public inquiry will be enough to clear the air.