Posts Tagged ‘Murdoch’

Oh dear Tony. Oh dear.

19/02/2014, 05:43:42 PM

by Atul Hatwal

If Rebekah Brooks’ e-mail to James Murdoch does give a fair account of her conversation with Tony Blair, then he’s been a very foolish ex-prime minister.

It’s not so much the apparent cynicism of the advice on how to manage the process, or even the reference to Hutton (which might be Brooks’ interpretation rather than a direct reference by Blair) but the crushing, ghastly, inescapable lack of judgement. What did he think he was doing?

One of the worst aspects of politics is the faux comity within which work relationships become wrapped.

It was evident at the Huhne trial in the cringeworthy string of BFF e-mails between Vicky Pryce and Isabel Oakeshott, where they discuss having a “fun” mini-break in Greece to work through the details of the story to bring down Huhne.

The chummy undercurrent is wholly at odds with the reality of what is happening.  These types of exchanges are not friends having a little chitter chatter, they are work transactions of significant gravity. Each participant has something the other wants. At stake are careers, livelihoods, and in the case of the Huhne fiasco, people’s liberty.

But it is the argot in which much modern politics is conducted and in Tony Blair’s case, he seems to have mistaken the artifice of sociability for the substance for friendship.


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Wednesday News Review

27/07/2011, 06:33:33 AM

Murdoch received classified defence briefings

The extraordinary access that Cabinet ministers granted Rupert Murdoch and his children was revealed for the first time yesterday, with more than two dozen private meetings between the family and senior members of the Government in the 15 months since David Cameron entered Downing Street. In total, Cabinet ministers have had private meetings with Murdoch executives more than 60 times and, if social events such as receptions at party conferences are included, the figure is at least 107. On two occasions, James Murdoch and former News International chief executive Rebekah Brooks were given confidential defence briefings on Afghanistan and Britain’s strategic defence review by the Defence Secretary, Liam Fox. A further briefing was held with Ms Brooks, Rupert Murdoch and the Sunday Times editor John Witherow. – the Independent

Boy George has his head in the sand

Deluded Chancellor George Osborne yesterday hailed nine months of economic stagnation as “positive news” for Britain. Yet the Chancellor insisted: “The positive news is that the British economy is continuing to grow and is creating jobs. And it is positive news too at a time of real international instability that we are a safe haven in the storm.” A series of lame excuses – including the Japanese tsunami, the Royal Wedding and April’s hot weather – were also trotted out to justify the lacklustre economic performance. Shadow Chancellor Ed Balls branded Mr Osborne “breathtakingly complacent” and accused him of being “in total denial”. Mr Balls, who challenged the Chancellor to a televised debate, added: “Families, pensioners and businesses can feel that tax rises and spending cuts which go too far and too fast are hurting, but it’s clear that they aren’t working.” New figures showed Gross Domestic Product, a measure of the nation’s wealth, rose by 0.2% in the past three months. That is just half of what the Government’s independent economic watchdog had predicted. – Daily Mirror

Today’s figures of 0.2 per cent GDP growth show the UK’s climb out of recession to be uncertain and sluggish. It seems the Home Office could not have timed worse the release of a damning newreport from the home affairs committee on the consequences of the changes to student visas. It’s official: these changes are set to cost the economy £3.4 billion; a disconcerting revelation for the embattled George Osborne who also has to monitor the euro-crisis and the fiscal turmoil in Greece. The over-arching message from today’s report is that the government needs to seriously consider the growing challenges of the UK’s economy and the impact of restricting foreign students on income generated by research and innovation in higher education – issues which it thinks have not yet been properly considered. The UK’s economy is bolstered by the funding stream of overseas students, an industry “worth up to £40 billion” and provides a direct contribution of “up to £12.5 billion” annually to revenue. There is no denying the government faces some considerable challenges in reforming the current immigration system and trying to balance an economy in freefall. – Left Foot Forward

Even Boris wants a growth plan

The London mayor, Boris Johnson, has called for a “manifesto for growth” to generate jobs and keep the economy moving as figures revealed that the UK economy had grown by only 0.2% in the past three months. Johnson said measures to “stimulate consumption” were also needed, along with more investment to create jobs and drive the economy forward. The Conservative mayor reiterated his support for scrapping the 50p rate of tax and as the “right direction” to get faster economic recovery. The comments came as Johnson hosted a London radio show for an hour in place of the usual presenter, Nick Ferrari. Certainly you should look at national insurance, you should look at ways of stimulating consumption, confidence in the market, and certainly I think the 50p tax rate as a signal that London is open for business, that London is a great international competitive capital.” But he said the “critical thing” was to set out “a manifesto or charter for growth.” – the Guardian

Answers at last

The Information Commissioner ruled that they were in the public interest, amid claims by some victims’ families that the former Conservative prime minister tried to protect the police’s reputation. In a decision notice, Christopher Graham said: “Support for disclosure of information relating to the Hillsborough disaster was expressed by the previous government and has been reconfirmed by the current government, and the commissioner also believes that the specific content of the information in question would add to public knowledge and understanding about the reaction of various parties to that event, including the government of the day, in the early aftermath.” Ninety-six Liverpool fans died in the crush at Hillsborough stadium in Sheffield on April 15 1989 during an FA Cup semi-final against Nottingham Forest. An inquiry led by Lord Taylor of Gosforth concluded that the main reason for overcrowding was the failure of police control. – Daily Telegraph

The government has been ordered to publish documents revealing the discussions held by Margaret Thatcher about the 1989 Hillsborough disaster, in which 96 Liverpool fans died in a crush at the stadium in Sheffield. Ruling that release of the documents was in the public interest, the information commissioner said it was right to publish the record of a Cabinet meeting on 20 April 1989 in which the then prime minister and her ministers spoke of the disaster, which took place five days earlier. The judgment by Christopher Graham relates to a freedom of informationrequest by the BBC more than two years ago, which was refused by the Cabinet Office. He rejected the office’s argument that the disclosure would impact negatively on the freedom with which ministers can engage in “free and frank discussions”, and on the convention of collective responsibility. – the Guardian

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Friday News Review

15/07/2011, 07:04:40 AM

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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Thursday News Review

14/07/2011, 06:09:13 AM

Murdoch’s mess

Rupert Murdoch has capitulated to parliament and abandoned News Corporation‘s £8bn bid for BSkyB, as he faced the prospect of appearing in front of a judicial public inquiry to salvage his personal reputation and the right for his company to continue to broadcast in the UK. After 10 days of sustained public outcry over phone hacking, and facing the prospect of a unanimous call by MPs to withdraw his bid for total ownership of the broadcaster, Murdoch succumbed at a morning board meeting in Wapping. The News Corp deputy chairman, Chase Carey, said the bid had become “too difficult to progress in this climate”. The withdrawal represents the biggest single reverse of Murdoch’s mercurial career, but may presage even further commercial damage not just in the UK, but worldwide. News Corp’s current 39% stake in BSkyB could also still be at risk from the “fit and proper” test for ownership being conducted by regulator Ofcom. On a cathartic day at Westminster in which politicians acted as if they had been liberated from the thrall of the Murdoch empire, David Cameron announced a sweeping public inquiry into widespread lawbreaking by the press, alleged corruption by police, and the failure of the initial police investigation into phone hacking. – the Guardian

Rupert Murdoch’s grand plan for a huge expansion of his media empire was in tatters last night as the ‘firestorm’ over phone hacking forced him to withdraw his bid to take over BSkyB. The tycoon shelved his £10billion offer for the satellite broadcaster as it became clear that David Cameron, Nick Clegg and Ed Miliband were joining forces in a Commons vote urging him to back off. It came as Mr Cameron relented in the face of intense pressure from Labour and the Liberal Democrats and agreed to a judicial inquiry into press standards, regulation and ownership, and allegations of illegal phone hacking by the News of the World and police corruption. The probe will be headed by Lord Justice Leveson, who prosecuted Britain’s worst female serial killer, Rose West. The Prime Minister said News Corporation had made ‘the right decision’ in dropping its bid to buy the 61 per cent share in BSkyB that it does not own. Mr Cameron also vowed that media executives responsible for the scandal would be barred from owning newspapers or broadcasters. ‘The people involved – whether they were directly responsible for the wrongdoing, sanctioned it, or covered it up, however high or low they go – must not only be brought to justice, they must also have no future role in the running of a media company in our country,’ he said. – Daily Mail

Summoned, but will they turn up

Rebekah Brooks, Rupert Murdoch and his son James may appear before MPs next week over the phone-hacking scandal, according to the Culture Committee’s chairman. The News International (NI) chief executive, her News Corporation boss and his son, the NI chairman, could be questioned in Westminster next Tuesday. MPs on the Culture, Media and Sport (CMS) Select Committee want to ask Mrs Brooks about her knowledge of alleged payments to police, Labour politician Tom Watson said. The committee also wants to quiz James Murdoch on his involvement “in authorising payments to silence” the Professional Footballers’ Association boss Gordon Taylor after his phone was hacked, Mr Watson said. Commons Culture Committee chairman John Whittingdale told Sky News he earlier understood the trio had agreed to give evidence to the committee. But he later clarified that while NI has agreed to co-operate he did not know if that extended to all three appearing before the panel of MPs. – Sky News

MPs are to meet later to decide whether to summon News International chief Rebekah Brooks to appear before them over the phone-hacking scandal. The Commons Culture Committee also wants to question News Corporation executives Rupert and James Murdoch but may be unable to compel them to appear. The company has shut down its News of the World newspaper over the scandal and dropped its bid to control BSkyB. US politicians are also demanding a probe into phone hacking allegations. On Tuesday, the Commons Culture Committee invited Ms Brooks and the Murdochs to give evidence about the phone-hacking scandal at the House of Commons. In a statement, the MPs said that serious questions had arisen about the evidence Ms Brooks and the News of the World’s former editor Andy Coulson gave at a previous hearing in 2003. – BBC News

Gordon goes for it

After years of being courted by Mr Brown and other senior Labour figures, the tabloid dramatically announced it was switching its allegiance to David Cameron’s Conservatives. “Labour’s lost it” proclaimed the best-selling daily paper, alongside a big picture of Gordon Brown. The announcement was timed to cause maximum embarrassment to Labour and dominated the headlines on the day after the then Prime Minister’s keynote conference speech. As a result, Mr Brown is alleged to have said that he would “destroy” Rupert Murdoch. Yesterday, we discovered that during this period in 2009 Mr Brown attempted to order an independent inquiry into the growing allegations of phone hacking at News International. He was blocked by the country’s most senior civil servant, partly on the basis that it was just months before a general election. However, it now appears that Mr Brown secretly orchestrated — or at the very least supported — a campaign among Labour MPs to bring public attention to the phone hacking scandal. On Monday, with political opinion virtually united against Mr Murdoch, Mr Brown finally decided to break cover and “go public” over his alleged long-held concerns over News International’s activities. He spoke of his “tears” at allegations that his son’s medical records had been hacked by The Sun, at the time edited by Rebekah Brooks, and, for good measure, accused another Murdoch paper, The Sunday Times, of hacking his bank accounts. – Daily Telegraph (more…)

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Saturday News Review

09/07/2011, 07:11:40 AM

Rupert steps in

The chairman’s reported intervention comes as a third man was arrested and bailed in connection with alleged corrupt payments made to police officers. Sky News understands the 63-year-old man, who was arrested in Surrey, is a private investigator who worked for the newspaper. Former NOTW editor Andy Coulson and former royal reporter Clive Goodman were released last night on police bail after being arrested earlier. Mr Murdoch is due to arrive in the UK on a flight some time today. Sky reporter Hannah Thomas-Peter, in New York, said the News Corp boss had been in Idaho and looked unhappy after being questioned by several reporters. “He presided over the decision to axe a favourite newspaper in order to stop the rot – a phrase used here a lot,” Thomas-Peter said. “The idea was to send a message to investors and shareholders that News Corporation is serious about protecting the Murdoch brand and the proposed takeover of BSkyB. “It is clear at the moment that it does not look like he has been able to stop the rot, so he himself is getting on a plane to fly to London to deal with it.” News International also denied reports that police are investigating suspected deletion of emails by an executive at the company. The Guardian reported that Scotland Yard is probing claims that a member of staff deleted “millions of emails” from an internal archive. Police refused to comment on the reports. – Sky News

Murdoch Snr, the 80-year-old chairman and chief executive of News Corporation, is due in the UK to confront the growing crisis at his media group. His intervention comes as a third man was held last night in connection with alleged corrupt payments made to police officers. The man was later bailed until October. A 63-year-old was arrested at an address in Surrey as former News of the World editor Andy Coulson was released on police bail after being quizzed for nine hours over allegations of corruption and the phone-hacking scandal that forced the closure of the 168-year-old newspaper. The Sunday tabloid’s former royal editor, Clive Goodman, was also questioned at a separate police station over claims that police officers were bribed. As the crisis at Mr Murdoch’s empire deepened, News International’s embattled chief executive Rebekah Brooks hinted to staff that more revelations were ahead, warning of “another very difficult moment in this company’s history”. – Daily Telegraph

Brooks hangs on for now

Sensational allegations of a criminal cover-up were made against Rupert Murdoch’s faltering media empire last night as the phone hacking scandal reached the door of Downing Street. Police are investigating claims that News International deleted millions of emails from an internal archive in an apparent attempt to obstruct a police inquiry. All this came as the Prime Minister made the extraordinary suggestion that Mr Murdoch’s son and heir apparent James had ‘questions to answer’ to police after admitting paying hush money to victims of hacking by the News of the World. In his most difficult day since becoming Conservative leader, Mr Cameron repeatedly refused to apologise for hiring as his media chief ex-News of the World editor Andy Coulson, who was arrested yesterday and held for ten hours. The Prime Minister admitted he, as well as other political leaders, had been wrong to spend years courting the Murdoch empire – and turned on his horse-riding companion and Oxfordshire neighbour Rebekah Brooks, the media group’s UK boss. He said Mrs Brooks, editor of the News of the World at the time it is accused of hacking mobile phone messages of murdered schoolgirl Milly Dowler, should go. ‘It has been reported that she offered her resignation over this and in this situation I would have taken it,’ the Prime Minister said. – Daily Mail

Rebekah Brooks last night told the News of the World’s staff that she had no option but to close Britain’s best-selling Sunday newspaper because it had become a “toxic brand” because of the slew of phone-hacking revelations. In a tense meeting held in Rupert Murdoch’s Wapping headquarters, with News International’s chief executive flanked by guards, and the company disabling the Twitter and email accounts of staff, Ms Brooks apologised to 250 employees and tried to defuse the fallout from her address to them 24 hours earlier, in which she had made the shock announcement that their paper was to be closed and they were losing their jobs. Ms Brooks shared a platform with the NOTW’s editor, Colin Myler, who addressed staff and received applause; Ms Brooks was greeted with silence and the occasional heckler. A NOTW staff member told The Independent that Ms Brooks dodged difficult questions: “She said: ‘I am not going to resign because these are unproven allegations,’ to which someone replied: ‘Well, you closed the paper down over these unproven allegations.’ “We were asking difficult questions about our futures and getting corporate PR-speak back. She told us that everything possible would be done to find us new jobs within News International. Someone replied that it was presumptuous to think that we even wanted to work for the company again after this.” – the Independent

Murdoch jr could still face charges

James Murdoch and News Corp could face corporate legal battles on both sides of the Atlantic that involve criminal charges, fines and forfeiture of assets as the escalating phone-hacking scandal risks damaging his chances of taking control of Rupert Murdoch’s US-based media empire. As deputy chief operating officer of News Corp – the US-listed company that is the ultimate owner of News International (NI), which in turn owns the News of the World, the Times, the Sunday Times and the Sun – the younger Murdoch has admitted he misled parliament over phone hacking, although he has stated he did not have the complete picture at the time. There have also been reports that employees routinely made payments to police officers, believed to total more than £100,000, in return for information. The payments could leave News Corp – and possibly James Murdoch himself – facing the possibility of prosecution in the US under the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act (FCPA) – legislation designed to stamp out bad corporate behaviour that carries severe penalties for anyone found guilty of breaching it – and in the UK under the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act 2000 which outlaws the interception of communications. Tony Woodcock, a partner at the City law firm Stephenson Harwood, said section 79 of the 2000 Act enabled criminal proceedings to be brought against not only a company, but also a director or similar officer where the offence was committed with their “consent or connivance” or was “attributable to any neglect on their part. While the UK phone-hacking scandal has been met with outrage in the US, the hacking itself is unlikely to prompt Washington officials into action. But because NI is a subsidiary of the US company, any payments to UK police officers could trigger a justice department inquiry under the FCPA. – the Guardian

Focus shifts to Ed’s team

The day Alastair Campbell appeared to give ­evidence to the Hutton inquiry into the death of Dr David Kelly, he was given a good-luck hug by his friend Tom Baldwin. Baldwin was the Times journalist who named the weapons expert as the secret source behind the BBC’s claim that the Blair government had ‘sexed up’ a dossier about Iraq’s ‘weapons of mass destruction’ to justify going to war against Saddam Hussein. Campbell was known to liaise with Baldwin in endless attempts to ­discredit the Labour government’s enemies, the results of which regularly ended up prominently in The Times — a paper once admired for its thundering independence. ‘Tom was a ruthless operator and obsessed by the power his friend Alastair wielded in Downing Street,’ says a ­colleague. ‘I think he envied him.’ Even so, who could have imagined, when the appalling era of mendacity that marked Campbell’s tenure in Downing Street finally ended, that a new one would start a few years later? ‘Tom’s trouble is that he is totally disorganised — administratively chaotic,’ says an old colleague. ‘He has a sharp mind, but once when he went on a journalistic assignment, no one was surprised when he called the office to say he’d lost his phone and laptop.’ Those were the days when people who worked closely with Baldwin noticed him slip away from his desk for what they called ‘inquiries with Mr Coke’. No one doubted his abilities as a journalist, with ruthless energy when pursuing a story. – Daily Mail

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Thursday News Review

07/07/2011, 06:56:51 AM

Ed forces Dave into a hole

The atmosphere in the chamber for PMQs today was rather unusual. As the loud chatter silenced for the weekly ritual of honouring the dead, I’m sure I was not the only one wondering if the noise would return. David Cameron is under as much pressure as he ever has been for his relationship with Rebekah Brooks, but how on earth was Ed Miliband supposed to raise it, without sounding like he was making too much political capital out of a scandal? Unusually, Miliband got it about right. He started slowly, noting that the “whole country” would be “appalled” by the “immoral and disgraceful” conduct of the News of the World. He then pressed the PM on the need for an inquiry, noting Mr Cameron’s positive responses respectfully, even in the face of shrieks from a few Labour backbenchers. Cleverly, he tried to cajole David Cameron into a stronger commitment than Cameron evidently wanted – to “start the process now”. Instead of charging in with a chainsaw, Ed made a careful first incision. Then he injected the poison. “The PM must realise that the public will react with disbelief if the deal [for News International to buy BSkyB] goes ahead,” he said, forcing Mr Cameron into a rather technical defence of Jeremy Hunt’s decision making. “This is not the time for technicalities,” shouted Ed. That prompted guffaws from the Tory benches. But Ed was right – it wasn’t, and Cameron was trapped. – Daily Telegraph

David Cameron and Nick Clegg are wrangling over the membership and status of the inquiries that will be held into illegal phone hacking at the News of the World and wider questions about the future of media regulation. The prime minister bowed to pressure to hold at least one inquiry but is resisting calls from Clegg for a judge to take charge. The differences between Clegg and Cameron came as the government faced calls from across the Commons as well as from City shareholders to delay its final decision on the proposed takeover of BSkyB by News Corporation, parent company of the News of the World. Jeremy Hunt, the culture secretary, gave the provisional go-ahead for the deal last Friday, subject to a final seven-day consultation over plans to hive off Sky News as a separately listed company to allay plurality fears. Hunt is due to consider thousands of pages of documents submitted during the consultation. He will then make a decision – which could be delayed into the summer recess – after consultations with Ofcom and the OFT. The Labour leader, Ed Miliband, took the momentous step of turning against Rupert Murdoch‘s empire, calling for the resignation of News International‘s chief executive, Rebekah Brooks, and demanding the BSkyB decision be referred to the Competition Commission. – the Guardian

There were signs of panic in Downing Street last night as the Prime Minister faced mounting pressure from all political parties to block the plans by Rupert Murdoch’s News Corporation to take full ownership of BSkyB because of the phone hacking scandal engulfing his UK newspaper group. One insider said: “We are looking for a way out on the takeover. But it isn’t easy to find one. The timing is just awful.” A Tory minister said: “David Cameron is well aware of how damaging the issue of the takeover is to him and to the Government. There is real anxiety in No 10.” Some MPs believe there could be discreet contacts between Downing Street and senior News Corp figures urging the company to suspend its bid. Senior Liberal Democrats pressed the Prime Minister and the Culture Secretary, Jeremy Hunt, to limit the damage to the Coalition by derailing News Corp’s bid to buy the 61 per cent of BSkyB it does not already own. Government officials insist Mr Hunt can only block the deal on media plurality grounds. Some ministers hope that media regulator Ofcom will spare their blushes by halting the takeover because the hacking scandal shows News Corp would not be a “fit and proper” owner of BSkyB. – the Independent

Shocking turn as war widows messages were listened to

A phone-hacking scandal engulfing Rupert Murdoch’s media empire grew on Thursday with claims that Britain’s top-selling tabloid may have listened to the voicemail of relatives of soldiers killed in Iraq and Afghanistan. News International, the parent company of the News of the World tabloid, said it would be contacting the Defence Ministry after a report in the Daily Telegraph that the phone numbers of British soldiers were found in the files of a private investigator jailed for hacking phones. “If these allegations are true we are absolutely appalled and horrified,” it said in a statement. Rose Gentle, the mother of fusilier Gordon Gentle, killed by a roadside bomb in Iraq’s oil port of Basra in 2004, told the BBC she was “totally disgusted” by the allegations. “I’d never buy that paper again, if this is true, they need to be brought to justice for this, they need to pay for this,” she said. In a further twist to the affair, a spokesman for Finance Minister George Osborne said police had told the minister his name and home phone number were in notes kept by two people jailed for phone hacking. – Reuters

The Daily Telegraph has learnt that the personal details of the families of servicemen who died on the front line have been found in the files of Glenn Mulcaire, the private detective working for the Sunday tabloid. The disclosure that grieving relatives of war dead were targets for the newspaper prompted anger among military charities, who said it was a “disgusting and indefensible assault on privacy”. The Metropolitan Police is facing growing calls from the families of murder victims, those killed in terrorist attacks and those who died in natural disasters, such as the Indonesian tsunami, to disclose if they were targets. Rebekah Brooks, the former editor of the News of the World and now chief executive of News International, its parent company, faced calls from Ed Miliband, the Labour leader, to step down. Yesterday The Daily Telegraph disclosed that families of victims of the July 7 bombings were targets for Mulcaire in the days after the atrocity in 2005. – Daily Telegraph

A new era of transparency?

Taxpayers are to be given access to information on all aspects of the performance of schools, GPs, hospitals, police, courts and prisons. Ministers will today announce an ‘information revolution’ which they say will make centrally-imposed targets across public services redundant. People will be invited to judge for themselves whether schools or GP surgeries are up to scratch using data currently hidden from scrutiny. In health, information on the prescribing data and comparative clinical outcomes of GP practices will be published from December this year. Details of complaints made against every NHS hospital – so that patients can use the experiences of other patients to judge whether they want to be treated there – will be available from October. From next April, success and failure rates of doctors in treating all major medical conditions will be available, as will data on the quality of their post-graduate medical education. In education, data enabling parents to see how effective their school is at teaching high, average and low attaining pupils across a range of subjects will be published from next January. Anonymised data from the National Pupil Database to help parents and pupils to monitor the performance of their schools in depth will be available from next June. – Daily Mail

Ministers are to publish all spending on government credit cards in order to expose profligacy and waste as part of new plans to reveal swaths of government data showing low-performing schools, GP services and transport services. The Cabinet Office minister Francis Maude will announce plans on Thursday to publish millions of new data items, from prescription rates at specific GP surgeries to how well individual schools are teaching low and high-attaining pupils. It will allow patients to shop around for the surgery most likely to prescribe an expensive drug, or parents to find out which school is best for high achievers or pupils with special educational needs. Ministers want this information about public services to drive competition as people become more informed “consumers” of government-funded services. The publication of the data comes after last year’s spending was released under the Freedom of Information Act, revealing £25m of previously secret spending by Whitehall officials in the year that the government implemented its deficit reduction programme. David Cameron has written to ministers setting out the plans. “We recognise that open data and transparency can be a powerful tool to help reform public services, foster innovation, empower citizens … we also understand that transparency can be a significant driver of economic activity,” he said. “These commitments represent the most ambitious open data agenda of any government in the world.” Maude said: “Information enables choice – which creates competition which drives up standards. The new commitments represent a quantum leap in government transparency and will radically help to drive better public services.” – the Guardian

Well done Tom

Labour MP Tom Watson was named as Commons select committee member of the year at the House magazine awards on Thursday evening. At an awards ceremony in the Robing Room attended by peers, MPs and members of the press gallery, Watson was honoured for using his membership of the culture committee to push for further investigation of the phone hacking allegations. MPs and peers voted for the winners, with the press deciding who would win minister of the year. Watson said he learnt much about select committees when he first entered parliament and served under the chairmanship of Chris Mullin on the home affairs committee. He cited as a “pre-requisite” for effective committee members both an obsessional approach to policy and “an eye for the big picture”. David Davis, presenting the award to Watson, said he is proof that “a select committee member can turn the world upside down”. –

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Jon Bounds on the half-appearance of the internet election

19/05/2010, 08:05:32 AM

Will the General Election in May 2010 go down as the first ‘internet election’? No. The unusual — if not entirely unexpected — result has seen to that, but it was an election in which people using the social web changed forever the way campaigning works in the UK.

Talk before was of which party could “do what Obama did”; that is, use the internet to harness support, and to fundraise. Well, no one really did — and politics in Britain was unlikely to suddenly start to work like that: we’re too conflicted, too cynical and have too many choices. We sometimes have to make decisions about how to place our cross where the local and national aims seem flatly contradictory — it was never going to be a simple case of joining one Facebook Group over another. The web can handle nuance, even if our electoral system can’t.

There was significant grassroots activity though, and perhaps the best way to see the difference between us and US is to look at the difference between (‘Organising for America’) and (‘Airbrushed for Change’). One is a social network ‘lite’, directed at organising and nudging (very much in line with the theories of Richard Thaler) support, the other a crowdsourced Private Eye, with all the mix of clever satire and fart jokes that that might entail. (more…)

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