The traditional shareholder revolt at NewsCorp (owner of Fox, Fox News, Sky, Harper Collins, the NY Post, the Wall Street Journal, the Sun) is back for another run, and this time it's gathering steam and may indeed make it. Rupert Murdoch and his family own a minority of the shares in NewsCorp, but their shares are in a special class of voting stock that means that they effectively get to do whatever they want with the majority investors' money. Effectively, Murdoch's initial pitch to investors was, "I'll take your money, but I'm not interested in your advice -- just cough up, shut up, and let me run this thing and I'll pay you some fat dividends."
But it's all gone rather wrong. Murdoch's ideological projects and nepotism have cost the business millions -- between a sweetheart deal that saw the company buying his daughter Elisabeth's startup Shine for £413M of the shareholders' money, and his son James's presiding over a phone-hacking scandal that destroyed News of the World, the bestselling newspaper (sic) in Britain, the investors are getting a bit tired of Murdoch running NewsCorp like his own personal fiefdom. It's one thing to play Colonel Kurtz in the jungle when it's making the shareholders rich, but when you start frittering away titanic assets like the NotW because you need to give your idiot son a job, well, that's another story.
As I said, this isn't the first time the shareholders have taken a swing at Rupert and his spawn, but this is a bigger, more multi-pronged, and better coordinated approach that any to date. Read the rest
Writing in The Spectator, Kirsty Walker describes the chilling effect the UK's Leveson Inquiry (which is investigating illegal phone/email interception and systematic harassment by UK papers, especially tabloids) is having on legitimate reporting. The UK is already the best place in the world for rich and powerful people who want to use libel law to silence unflattering accounts of their actions. But with Leveson heading for its conclusion and the spectre of official press regulation (through which the government would license reporters and news outlets, and could remove those licenses at will), reporters and their editors are under increasing pressure from the world's dictators and local plutocrats.
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Before the Leveson inquiry, I had received less than a dozen PCC complaints in my career and never had one upheld. But when I left, complaints were coming in at a rate of at least one a month. All required mini-investigations. Even foreign dictatorships know how to frighten Fleet Street. The last complaint I was asked to deal with was from a dictator, the King of Bahrain, who didn’t like the way I referred to criticism of his regime following the deaths of 40 people in anti-government protests.
Like 99.99 per cent of British journalists, I never hacked a phone or bribed a public official. During my long career in the House of Commons, I tried my utmost to be fair. If a story didn’t quite stack up, I would abandon it. A small handful of journalists did hire private investigators to do some horrific things, but there are laws in this country to deal with them.
The redoubtable Miss Insomnia Tulip has created a calorific tribute to the Leveson Inquiry, in which Lord Justice Leveson is interrogating the state of the nation's newspapers, phone hacking, and undue political influence. There are cakepops for all of the players in the inquiry, including one for Rebekah Brooks's LOL Blackberry.
Tom Watson and Martin Hickman's Dial M for Murdoch is a timely, informative, infuriating insider account of the News International phone-hacking scandal that has occupied the news-cycle, off and on, for several years now (and shows no sign of slowing down). Watson, a veteran Member of Parliament -- and frequent target of the Murdoch press and its hackers and snoops -- was an early and consistent voice of alarm over the scale and illegality of the Murdoch tabloids' investigative methods. He's uniquely well-situated to tell this story. His co-writer, Martin Hickman, is a veteran investigative reporter who covered the story for the Independent. They make a good pair, and the narrative is relatively smoothly told and, at times, is very powerfully written.
The Murdoch papers -- and other UK tabloids and papers -- wield tremendous influence in the halls of British power. Dial M traces the intimate connections between the press and senior ministers, elected officials, and -- crucially -- the police in the UK. As the flagship Murdoch tabloid, News of the World attained the highest circulation of any English-language paper, and seems to have led the world in illegal investigation techniques as well. The early inklings of the scope of the company's criminality were systematically understated by the press, underrated by the police, pooh-poohed by officials (from every party), and buried.
But the story wouldn't die. There were just too many victims, a sympathetic poster-child for everyone -- dead soldiers and their families, terrorist bombing victims, royals, the families of murdered children, and so on. Read the rest
In the wake of a UK Parliamentary committee report that described Rupert Murdoch as "not fit" to run a major corporation, a powerful US senator has reached out to the judge presiding over an inquiry into the British "phone hacking" scandal to discover whether Murdoch and his empire violated US law, too. Jay Rockefeller, chair of the Senate Commerce Committee, has asked Lord Justice Levenson "whether any of the evidence you are reviewing suggests that these unethical and sometimes illegal business practices occurred in the United States or involved US citizens." Rockefeller's committee oversees the FCC, which regulates broadcast licenses in the USA. The Guardian's Ed Pilkington and Lisa O'Carroll report:
In a scathing attack on the Murdoch company, Rockefeller writes: "In a democratic society, members of the media have the freedom to aggressively probe their government's activities and expose wrongdoing. But, like all other citizens, they also have a duty to obey the law.
"Evidence that is already in the public record clearly shows that for many years, News International had a widespread, institutional disregard for these laws."
Rockefeller also asks for details emerging from the Leveson inquiry that indicated whether any News Corp executives based in New York were aware of illegal payments made by News of the World to British police and other public officials. "I would be very concerned if evidence emerged suggesting that News Corporation officials in New York were also aware of these illegal payments and did not act to stop them."
A former Australian senator has accused News Corp -- Rupert Murdoch's media empire -- of offering to give him favorable coverage in exchange for his vote in against media legislation that would curtail the company's profits and influence. Former senator Bill O'Chee submitted a nine-page statement detailing his allegations to Australian police, who are investigating the claims.
O'Chee, a former senator for the state of Queensland with a track record of voting against his National party's wishes, alleged the executive told him that while voting against the digital TV legislation would be criticised, "we will take care of you".
The executive "also told me we would have a 'special relationship', where I would have editorial support from News Corp's newspapers, not only with respect to the … legislation but for 'any other issues' too," O'Chee reportedly told police in his statement.
"I believed that (he) was clearly implying that News Corp would run news stories or editorial content concerning any issue I wanted if I was to cross the floor and oppose the …legislation."
A lawyer for victims of News of the World phone hacking told the court that long after NotW knew of the police investigation of its newsgathering process, it put reporters' laptops and hard-drives "through a grinder" and took them out and "smashed them up."
The destruction of the computers is understood to have taken place around October last year, prior to the launch of Operation Weeting, the London Metropolitan Police investigation into phone hacking which has led to the arrests of 16 journalists.
The shredding of hard drives would have happened long after senior executives were made aware that phone hacking had spread beyond a single "rogue" reporter.
James Murdoch has been hauled back before Britain's Parliament to answer questions about what he knew and to what extent he is culpable in the News of the World/phone hacking scandal. In the BBC clip linked below, MP Tom Watson asks Murdoch if he knows what "omerta" means (Murdoch demurs). Then Murdoch embarks on a "mistakes were made" (well, "it is regrettable that things went wrong") statement that culminates with Watson asking Murdoch if he felt a comparison between News UK and the Mafia was apt. Murdoch disagrees. Watson finishes by noting that Murdoch must be "the first Mafia boss in history who didn't know he was running a criminal enterprise." To which Murdoch replies, "Mr Watson, please."
It's quite a moment.
Following up on the contentious NewsCorp shareholder meeting where the independent shareholders were to express their displeasure with the crimes committed on the Murdoch family's watch: the majority of the independent shareholders voted against continuing James and Lachlan Murdoch (Rupert's sons) continuing employment as senior execs in the company. Due to NewsCorp's odd structure the Murdochs get to overrule their shareholders, but if the upcoming shareholder meeting for BSkyB goes the same way, it will see some serious Murdoch tail-kickage.
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Michael Wolff, Murdoch biographer and author of The Man Who Owns the News, said it was now inevitable that James Murdoch would leave.
"James will probably go by himself, that's what everybody will be waiting for. I wonder too if Lachlan will step off the board. But could this drag on for another year? Yes."
Wolff said the size of the vote against Murdoch's son had created "a very difficult family moment..."
Tanner said the votes against the Murdoch sons and Bancroft showed shareholders were serious about wanting more independence at News Corp. "The overwhelming influence of the Murdoch family is not acceptable anymore," she said.
Tom Watson, the Labour MP who's tirelessly hounded Murdoch's News of the World over its illegal spying, has flown to the USA to attend the NewsCorp's shareholder meeting (he's got the AFL-CIO's proxy) to reveal that NewsCorp's sins go much deeper than the odd bit of mass-scale crude voicemail hacking. This is a pretty plausible allegation -- the idea that a firm as ruthless and moneyed as NewsCorp would stoop to voicemail hacking but stop there is pretty implausible. I assume that the leaker(s) who are releasing the intelligence about NewsCorp's misdeeds are timing their revelations to ensure that Rupert and his progeny twist and writhe as much as possible, coming up with new, more dire revelations every time the Murdochs appear to have settled things -- ideally these revelations should also reveal the previous round of spin as a pack of half-truths, twisted truths and outright lies. And ideally, each fresh revelation will inspire more leakers to come foreward.
NewsCorp has an odd corporate structure that gives control over the company to the Murdochs, even though they don't own the majority of shares. As activist shareholders begin to mobilize, the possibility of the Murdochs being chucked out of NewsCorp becomes more and more real.
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Watson has flown to Los Angeles to attend the shareholders meeting, which he will gain access to having been given a proxy vote by the US trade union umbrella group, the AFL-CIO. News Corporation is bracing itself for independent shareholders to vote in considerable numbers at the meeting against the reappointment of Rupert Murdoch and his sons, James and Lachlan, in the wake of the phone-hacking scandal.
The UK Labour party's conference is underway in Liverpool, and party bigwigs are presenting their proposals for reinvigorating Labour after its crushing defeat in the last election. The stupidest of these proposals to date will be presented today, when Ivan Lewis, the shadow culture secretary, will propose a licensing scheme for journalists through a professional body that will have the power to forbid people who breach its code of conduct from doing journalism in the future.
Given that "journalism" presently encompasses "publishing accounts of things you've seen using the Internet" and "taking pictures of stuff and tweeting them" and "blogging" and "commenting on news stories," this proposal is even more insane than the tradition "journalist licenses" practiced in totalitarian nations.
I'm all for hanging up Murdoch and his phone hackers by their thumbs, but you don't need to license journalists to get that done: all you need to do is prosecute them under existing criminal statutes. In other words, the only "journalism code of conduct" the UK needs to avert another phone hacking scandal is "don't break the law." Of course, it would help if government didn't court favour with the likes of Murdoch, as was the case under Labour (and is the case with today's Tories).
For a party eager to shed its reputation as sinister, spying authoritarians, Labour's really got its head up its arse.
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Lewis will suggest that newspapers should introduce a system whereby journalists could be struck off a register for malpractice. And he will question David Cameron's reluctance to explain why he made Andy Coulson, the former News of the World editor, his communications director both in opposition and then in government.
Goodman then claims that other members of staff at the News of the World were also hacking phones. Crucially, he adds: "This practice was widely discussed in the daily editorial conference, until explicit reference to it was banned by the editor." He reveals that the paper continued to consult him on stories even though they knew he was going to plead guilty to phone hacking and that the paper's then lawyer, Tom Crone, knew all the details of the case against him.Phone hacking: News of the World reporter's letter reveals cover-up (via Reddit) Read the rest
In a particularly embarrassing allegation, he adds: "Tom Crone and the editor promised on many occasions that I could come back to a job at the newspaper if I did not implicate the paper or any of its staff in my mitigation plea. I did not, and I expect the paper to honour its promise to me." In the event, Goodman lost his appeal. But the claim that the paper induced him to mislead the court is one that may cause further problems for News International.
Many in the Labour Party have believed ever since that Cecil King was conspiring with members of MI5 to destroy the democratically elected government, but there appears to be no hard evidence for this.EVERY DAY IS LIKE SUNDAY (Thanks, Ben!) Read the rest
The truth is that King was in league with more familiar "rogue elements" - senior City of London bankers, including the Governor of the Bank of England, who wanted to force the Labour government to slash the financial deficit. But the Prime Minister, Harold Wilson, was refusing to bow to their demands.
At the same time as this was happening, many of the journalists in Fleet Street were filled with a terrible doom about the future of newspapers. As a result the BBC got excited and went and made all sorts of films about newspapers - recording Fleet Street before it died. Some of the material they filmed is just wonderful - it is full of both touching and silly moments of an old world of journalism.
"When Myler and Crone first turned up, my knowledge was novice-level," he says. "I knew about three facts. But what I knew was that in any great scandal, you've got to follow the money. They were hick, amateur questions: I think I opened with: 'When did you tell Rupert Murdoch [about the payment]?' I thought that you might as well start at the top.Read the rest
"They said: 'Oh no – we didn't tell Rupert Murdoch.' Then it was, 'Well, who did you tell? Who authorised it?' Myler got frustrated me with me, because I came back to this four or five times. He ranted. And don't forget: Crone had already tried to get me off the committee. So at that point, I thought: 'You're rude, you've tried to remove me from this committee, you've put me under extreme pressure for a number of years – there's more to this, and I'm getting to the bottom of it.' "When Myler was so over the top . . .
He has undermined liberty: His outlets led the drumbeat for restriction or elimination of certain fundamental rights, including those under the US Fourth Amendment, while at the same time supporting unrestrained wiretapping, the harsh treatment of suspects who may have done nothing wrong, and fueling panic justifying the build-up of the national surveillance state.What Rupert Murdoch Means For You Personally (via Making Light) Read the rest
He has turned the public against the press. By the generally inferior product produced, with a few exceptions, by the majority of the news outlets he controls and the tawdry methods sponsored by many of them, he has eroded the public’s confidence in media in general, tarnishing its belief even in those outfits whose work deserves to be taken seriously. He has also used his outlets to convince the public that other, more conscientious news organizations are ideologically suspect and biased.
Graham Linehan (co-creator of such beloved TV as Father Ted and The IT Crowd) asked Channel 4 why they hadn't aired the most recent Daily Show in the UK, given that the episode deals with the News of the World scandal. The answer he got floored him: as it is against the law in the UK to use Parliamentary footage for satirical purposes, the Daily Show episode in question couldn't be aired here.
The issue is Parliamentary Copyright, a weird concept in UK law that gives Parliament (not the public) ownership over its publications, utterances, and so on. Parliamentary copyright means that it's illegal to print books containing complete records of Parliament without Parliament's permission (contrast this with the US, where anything produced by the federal government is presumptively in the public domain, belonging to all people).
We tend to think of Parliamentary Copyright as a kind of innocuous peccadillo -- after all, the Clerk of Parliament gave a license (retroactively) to the activists who made They Work For You, the best-of-breed Parliamentary tracker and activist tool. But this shows what happens when politicians, and not the people, own the record of government: Britons are denied access to commentary on their national news because there's no way an American TV show will know or care enough about Parliamentary Copyright to get a license to use clips in its shows in case the shows are exported to the UK.