Wednesday, February 24, 2010

MPs' attack provokes the wrath of Murdoch.

Rupert Murdoch's News International media organisation has accused a powerful House of Commons committee of "bias", saying that the report on News International and it's dealings had caused "substantial damage to the newspaper industry as a whole".

The report itself was, indeed, damning of the News of the World and the whole of News International:

The 167-page report by a cross-party select committee is withering about the conduct of the News of the World, with one MP saying its crimes "went to the heart of the British establishment, in which police, military, royals and government ministers were hacked on a near industrial scale".

MPs condemned the "collective amnesia" and "deliberate obfuscation" by NoW executives who gave evidence to them, and said it was inconceivable that only a few people at the paper knew about the practice.

The culture, media and sport select committee was also damning of the police, saying Scotland Yard should have broadened its original investigation in 2006, and not just focused on Clive Goodman, the NoW's royal reporter.

The findings provoked calls by the ­Liberal Democrats for a judicial inquiry, and unusually strong reaction from a cabinet minister, Ben Bradshaw, and Downing Street. Bradshaw, the media secretary, said the report raised "extremely serious questions" for the Murdoch empire.

"This report … says lawbreaking was condoned and that the company sought to conceal the truth. We welcome the report and are considering what further action may be needed to be taken."

I suppose the reaction of News International is similar to the kind of reaction we have become used to from Fox News. Fox is no longer a news organisation, it represents a point of view and seeks to interpret all events through the prism of that point of view. Which is exactly what News International is seeking to do here:

News International, which also publishes The Times, Sunday Times and Sun, responded with a furious statement accusing some of the MPs of pursuing a "party-political agenda". It said the committee's report was biased and had been distorted by external influences, particularly The Guardian newspaper which has alleged that the culture of phone hacking at the News of the World was widespread.

"The credibility of the select committee system relies on committee members exercising their powers with responsibility and fairness, and without bias or external influence. Against these standards this CMS committee has consistently failed," News International said. "Rather than work in the public interest, certain members of the committee appear to have pursued a party-political agenda. They have worked in collusion with The Guardian, consistently leaking details of the committee's intentions and deliberations to that newspaper."

The company claimed that MPs, who were undertaking a far-reaching inquiry into press standards and the laws on libel and privacy, had become obsessed with the phone-hacking issue.

"The committee has spent seven months – close to half of its time on the inquiry – on allegations made by The Guardian, despite its wide-ranging remit to examine issues of vital importance to the newspaper industry. In all this time, the committee has failed to come up with any new evidence to support The Guardian's allegations. Sadly, this has not stopped members of the committee from resorting to innuendo, unwarranted inference and exaggeration."

News International said it "strongly rejects" the committee's claims that its executives had suffered "collective amnesia" or been involved in "deliberate obfuscation and concealment of the truth".

While News International complain that the committee had "become obsessed with the phone-hacking issue", most of us do find that a pretty big deal. Indeed, the report suggests that it is unlikely that only Clive Goodman, the News of the World royal reporter who was jailed for hacking into telephones, was involved in this practice.
"There is no doubt that there were a significant number of people whose voice messages were intercepted, most of whom would appear to have been of little interest to the royal correspondent of the News of the World. This adds weight to suspicions that it was not just Clive Goodman who knew about these activities."
Murdoch is banging on the bottom of the pond, hoping to muddy the water. It's an old right wing tactic. But even Tory MP's on the committee are not buying into it.
In response to the accusations by News International, Mr Whittingdale, a Tory MP, defended the committee's report. "I was certainly not subject to external political pressure at all, and we stand by our report," he said.
News International can scream and shout about "bias" until the cows come home, but the report is damning. And no amount of mud slinging from Murdoch will change that fact.

Click here for full article.

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