Thursday News Review

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

The head of the civil service blocked a judicial review into phone hacking at the News of the World before the last election, the former Prime Minister Gordon Brown claimed yesterday. Accusing News International of “law-breaking on an industrial scale”, Mr Brown claimed there were more victims to be revealed and suggested the scandal could have been uncovered earlier if he had not been blocked by Whitehall. But Conservative MPs pointed out that Mr Brown had attended Rebekah Brooks’ wedding, held many meetings with Rupert Murdoch and his wife Sarah and had even hosted a “sleep-over” at Chequers for Ms Brooks and Rupert Murdoch’s daughter Elizabeth Mr Brown said he had asked Cabinet Secretary Sir Gus O’Donnell to agree to launch a judicial inquiry into the News of the World after a damning culture select committee report in 2009. “Far from the so-called cosy relationship with News International that would have meant doing nothing, my answer to what appeared to be News International’s abuse of press freedom was a full judge-led inquiry to meet growing public concern,” he told MPs. Mr Brown said the revelations of the last 10 days had given rise to “new crimes with new names”, such as blagging, hacking and Trojan emails which can break in to computers and not just phones. – the Independent

Unemployment down, but the claimant count rises

Unemployment has fallen again but the number of people claiming benefits continued to rise as axed public sector workers struggle to secure new jobs. Figures released by the Office for National Statistics (ONS) show that in the three months from March to May, those out of work fell by 26,000 to 2.45 million. However, the claimant count for June rose by 24,500 to 1.52 million – the biggest jump for two years. This can be part explained by the number of women on Jobseeker’s Allowance increasing by 9,500 to 493,900, the highest figure since 1996. Women were also affected most by a 16,000 increase in redundancies in the quarter to May to 144,000, mainly in health and social services. The official statistics also revealed a record number of people working part-time because they could not find a full-time job and a 32,000 increase in people classed as economically inactive. That total hit 9.33 million, mainly due to a 41,000 rise in the number of students not active in the labour market. Youth unemployment – the number of 16 to 24-year-olds out of work – was down by 42,000 at 917,000. – Sky News

The number of people without jobs and claiming unemployment benefit rose by almost double that expected last month to reach 1.52m – its highest total since March 2010, official figures confirmed today. However, the total number of people out of work actually fell, according to the wider ILO measure of unemployment, which is based on a survey of Britons. The unemployment rate for the three months to May 2011 declined by 0.1pc on the quarter to 7.7pc. The number of unemployed people fell by 26,000 over the quarter to reach 2.45m, with more young people aged 16 to 24 entering study or finding work. The discrepancy in the figures from the Office for National Statistics is thought to be down to changes in the way benefits are calculated. The Government is moving thousands of single mothers off income support onto unemployment benefits, known as Jobseeker’s Allowance. The ONS said the number of people out of work for up to one year increased by 11,000 over the quarter to reach 1.64m. Long-term unemployment fell by 37,000 to reach 807,000, the figures showed. – Daily Telegraph

Clarke’s privatisation programme

Two prisons will be closed and nine more put out to competition in a mass privatisation programme, the justice secretary, Kenneth Clarke, has announced. The prison closures include the much-praised resettlement jail, Latchmere House, in Richmond, west London, and Brockhill prison near Redditch, a 1960s prison building now in a poor state, which first opened as a remand centre and has at different times been both a women’s and a men’s prison. Their closure will save £4.9m this year and produce an ongoing saving of £11.4m a year for Clarke’s justice department, which faces a 23% budget cut. The decision to put nine prisons up for competition – including the Wolds, which is already run by the private security company G4S – is potentially the largest single privatisation programme in the history of the prison service in England and Wales. It is possible that some jails may remain in the public sector after bids are invited later this autumn. The last round of competition in March saw four prisons put up for tender and one, Buckley Hall, stayed in the public sector. The largest, Birmingham prison, is to be taken over by G4S. The muted response to that decision by the Prison Officers’ Association is likely to have been a factor in Wednesday’s announcement that a further nine jails are to be market-tested. – the Guardian

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