The media man cometh…
So the eyes of the world descended upon the Mother of Parliaments as it prepared to give the mother of all roastings to the last great newspaper baron, the all powerful Rupert Murdoch. Of course, the pressure wasn’t just on the Murdoch’s. The Labour Party has had a ball with this story, at long last knocking the sure-footed David Cameron off his stride. There’s a lot riding on how this whole event unfolds.
And here’s how it went –
James Murdoch requested to make an opening statement which the Chairman, without hesitation, denied him. The chair then instructed that some people be thrown out – not enough as we were to discover. Anyway, so far so good – chair John Whittingdale was clearly determined to assert his authority. Rupert Murdoch made his first contribution stating that “this [was] the most humble day of [his] life.” Incidentally, Chris Bryant MP (Labour) very conveniently positioned himself in the public gallery directly behind Rupert Murdoch thereby being seen on camera every time it turned to Murdoch Senior. So much for letting the people see the show!
John Whittingdale stated that following on from previous investigations the Committee found that it was “inconceivable” that only one journalist could have been involved in the phone hacking scandal and that the committee’s purpose was now to establish the extent to which Parliament had been misled.
So what did we learn and to what extent was Parliament misled?
Well, James Murdoch “regrets” that phones were hacked and stated that such acts did not “live up” to the standards expected. Furthermore, the reason why Parliament was misled, according to Murdoch Junior, was because, at the time, the company was not in full possession of all the facts. They have now come to light through the process of civil litigation.
Now, not every member of the committee merits a mention, and not every one of them merits a mention for the right reason either. Nonetheless, a few are worthy of note.
Tom Watson managed to let Murdoch senior point out that the News of the World made up only 1% of his empire and that he employs over 53,000 people. Furthermore, he asked Rupert Murdoch if he was aware of any allegations of blackmailing and the Clive Goodman case. Murdoch gave a very firm “no” in response. Mr Watson then tried to be smart with the retort “do you think perhaps that is because even if you had, you’d have done nothing about it?” Murdoch Senior, very quickly responded by asking that if the bribery allegations are true why wasn’t the alleged blackmailer arrested and put in prison. A somewhat embarrassed Tom Watson sheepishly replied “because it was a civil case.” In other words, it’s been settled, it isn’t actually relevant to this discussion but it’s a good headline grabber so we’ll bring it up nonetheless.
Just like the financial crisis before it, some MPs are so interested in making a name for themselves that the quest for the truth has become a sideshow to the new aim of destroying the Murdoch Empire.
Moving on, Jim Sheridan MP thought it prudent to ask why Rupert had entered No 10 through the back door when visiting David Cameron. Apparently because he was asked to, just as he was often asked to when he visited Mr Brown. Murdoch Senior also pointed out that he had supported both Conservative and Labour governments in the past and incidentally, circulation of the News of the World fell by 200,000 when he switched to Labour. Again, not quite the point scoring the MPs wanted to achieve. Mr Sheridan also asked if News International was subject to investigations by the FSA, HMRC or the Serious Fraud Office. Another wasted question as the answer was, unsurprisingly, “no”.
Asked whether he thought people in public life could expect total privacy Mr Murdoch gave an emphatic “no” and later also managed to point out that the Daily Telegraph’s acquisition of a file on MPs expenses was an illegal act (because it was stolen). Yet it was in the public interest that the information should have been disclosed and of course, proved the value of investigative journalism. What investigation therefore, would the honourable members be pursuing in this instance? No response as far as I could tell.
Now the whole affair was not a complete waste of time. The Murdoch’s admitted mistakes. Rupert Murdoch was shown to be somewhat out of the loop on occasions. More significantly, as well as the admission that this particular experience was a humbling one, Rupert Murdoch confessed to being “shocked, appalled and ashamed” at the hacking of Millie Dowler’s phone – a welcome announcement.
However, on the whole, the entire episode was a bit of an anti-climax. Despite the last minute “attack” on Murdoch senior and the dramatic intervention by Wendi Murdoch on her husband’s assailant, there really wasn’t anything new to report. No smoking guns were uncovered. No new revelations exposed.
And hopefully, this can now allow a line to be drawn under this particular episode. The MPs have had their moment in the sun. In due course, we shall no doubt be told how Parliament was misled. In the meantime, it is now time to allow the judicial enquiry to get underway and for the police investigations to come to conclusion.
The truth is, the public have not been “shocked” by this scandal, as the commentators would have us believe. Because, like the MPs expenses scandal before it, the public are not shocked when the things they assume to be true, are in fact, revealed to be true. Today we live in a country where over 2 million people are unemployed, while an economic crisis is in danger of sweeping the continent and our troops are still engaged in a conflict in Libya. Yes, getting to the truth of the hacking scandal is important but it is not the only thing that matters. It is now time for world to start moving again.