Friday News Review

Murdoch’s woes cross the pond

The investigation into criminal behaviour by journalists at Rupert Murdoch’s News Corp crossed the Atlantic yesterday as the FBI opened an inquiry into claims that the News of the World tried to hack the phones of victims of the 9/11 terrorist attacks. As News Corp’s shares slid in New York and legal problems threatened to engulf the rest of his media empire, Mr Murdoch launched a vigorous defence of his own handling of the scandal and of the conduct of his son, James. The FBI opened the inquiry after sustained pressure from both Republican and Democrat politicians, who expressed outrage at the claims that 9/11 victims could have been among the NOTW’s targets. The FBI is following claims first made in the Daily Mirror at the start of this week that NOTW journalists contacted a former New York police officer, now working as a private investigator, and offered to pay him to retrieve the phone records of those killed in the 2001 terrorist attacks. Police sources said the investigation is at a preliminary stage. – the Independent

Media baron Rupert Murdoch‘s troubles are spreading across the pond from Britain to the USA. The Federal Bureau of Investigation is looking into allegations that Murdoch’s News Corp. tried to hack into the phone messages of U.S. 9/11 victims and families, a federal law enforcement official said Thursday. The official, who has been briefed on the matter but declined to be identified because he is not authorized to speak publicly, said the review was based on concerns raised by Rep. Pete King, R-N.Y., and Sens. Jay Rockefeller, D-W.Va.; Barbara Boxer, D-Calif.; and Frank Lautenberg, D-N.J., among others. King, who heads the Homeland Security Committee, is from a Long Island district that was home to many victims of the terrorist attacks in 2001. The lawmakers suggest that allegations against News Corp. in Great Britain— including paying off British law enforcement authorities for news tips — violated theForeign Corrupt Practices Act, which makes it a crime for companies with U.S. holdings to bribe foreign officials. They also want to know whether any U.S. citizens’ privacy was violated. – USA Today

Will they, won’t they?

Rupert and James Murdoch capitulated to Parliament last night and agreed to appear before MPs investigating phone hacking after facing the bizarre threat of imprisonment in a cell halfway up Big Ben. The media tycoon and his heir apparent had prompted fury at Westminster after declining an invitation to give evidence to a powerful Commons select committee next week. As a near-hysterical mood gripped the Commons, there were even suggestions that Parliament should somehow ‘impound’ Mr Murdoch’s private jet to prevent him leaving the country. With an unprecedented legal summons from Parliament’s most senior officials forcing them into a dramatic U-turn, Business Secretary Vince Cable said the humbling of the Murdoch empire was ‘a little bit like the end of a dictatorship’. The last time such as summons was issued was in 1992 when Kevin and Ian Maxwell were ordered to answer questions relating to their late father Robert’s plundering of the Mirror Group pension pot. A News Corporation spokesperson said: ‘We are in the process of writing to the select committee with the intention that Mr James Murdoch and Mr Rupert Murdoch will attend next Tuesday’s meeting.’ James, the chief of his father’s European and Asian operations, had said he was not available Tuesday but offered to appear on Aug 10 or 11, without explaining his inability to attend next week. While Rupert Murdoch had said he would not appear at all offering instead to speak before a separate inquiry initiated by the Prime Minister. That left former News of the World editor Rebekah Brooks facing the prospect of being grilled on her own by MPs scenting blood. – Daily Mail

Rupert Murdoch and his son James last night caved into pressure from David Cameron, Nick Clegg and MPs and agreed to give evidence to a Commons select committee next week. They will be joined by Rebekah Brooks, the News International Chief Executive, in what will be the most eagerly anticipated hearing at Westminster for decades. Both Rupert Murdoch, News Corporation’s chairman and chief executive, and James had initially said they would not be attending next Tuesday’s meeting of the Culture Media and Sport Committee. James, who is News International’s European chairman, said he could only attend at a later date. But after a six-hour stand off, and with pressure from MPs, the Prime Minister and the deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg, and faced with being sent a summons by the Serjeant at Arms, both men relented and agreed to attend. The three executives will face fierce questioning from MPs who have fought a tenacious campaign to expose the phone hacking scandal which has plunged Mr Murdoch’s media into crisis in the space of two weeks. Among them will be Tom Watson, the Labour MP, who has relentlessly pursued News International and has made clear his own disgust at the behaviour of Mrs Brooks in particular. – Daily Telegraph

Clegg and O’Donnell turn on Brown

Nick Clegg today accused Gordon Brown of “rewriting history” by claiming his desire for a hacking investigation was thwarted by MPs and civil servants. The former prime minister accused News International yesterday of forming a “criminal-media nexus” with members of Britain’s underworld. He told the Commons he had tried to hold a judicial inquiry into phone hacking shortly before the general election last year but was opposed by Cabinet Secretary Sir Gus O’Donnell, the Home Office and the police. Mr Brown said he was advised that media culture was permissive of unlawful activities and the Commons culture committee did not believe hacking was continuing. He claimed he was also told there was no evidence of systemic failure in the police and that targeting The News of the World could be deemed to be politically motivated. Deputy Prime Minister Mr Clegg said today: “I sensed a whiff of rewriting history, to be honest. If as prime minister he’d really be so determined to get to grips with this – and he was a powerful Chancellor – he was at the apex of British politics for 13 years … Are we now supposed to believe he was hamstrung by dastardly officials who stopped him doing that? There were many other things he wanted to do where he was happy to bulldoze the opposition but he didn’t seek to do so on this particular issue.” – Evening Standard

The cabinet secretary, Sir Gus O’Donnell, has denied claims he blocked an inquiry into phone hacking sought by former prime minister Gordon Brown just before the May 2010 general election. He also released his full advice to Brown setting out the options, which was sent to Brown’s principal private secretary, Jeremy Heywood, in March 2010. In his first major speech in the House of Commons since he resigned as prime minister last year, Brown said on Wednesday: “I deeply regret my inability to do then what I wanted to do and to overturn the advice of all the authorities and set up a judicial inquiry.” O’Donnell said: “I gave advice based on the evidence that was available at the time. It was for the prime minister to decide what to do. I set out options. My advice is clear and was based on the evidence available at the time, and I would have taken the same decision now if I had the same evidence as I had then.” O’Donnell also pointed out to Brown that if an investigation were called so close to a general election, there would be no possibility of a judicial inquiry producing a result in time. In his document marked “restricted” O’Donnell set out the necessary steps to be taken before an inquiry was launched and whether in this case such an inquiry would be merited. – the Guardian

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