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Rupert Murdoch unfit to lead company, British lawmakers say

By Henry Chu, Los Angeles Times –

LONDON — Rupert Murdoch “exhibited willful blindness” toward the illegal phone hacking that was rife at the News of the World tabloid and is “not a fit person” to head a major international company such as News Corp., a panel of British lawmakers said in a stinging report Tuesday.

Murdoch’s son, James. also showed poor leadership in failing to get to the bottom of the hacking scandal, but neither he nor his father lied to Parliament about their knowledge of the extent of the problem, the report said.

However, three other senior executives at News Corp. and the now-defunct News of the World — including Les Hinton, one of Rupert Murdoch’s closest associates — did mislead Parliament about how widespread the practice of snooping into cellphones was, the report said.

And as a whole, News International, News Corp.’s British arm, deliberately tried to hide the problem by suppressing documents and making statements to Parliament that were not fully truthful, according to the report.

“Their instinct throughout, until it was too late, was to cover up rather than seek out wrongdoing and discipline the perpetrators,” the report said.

The scathing report by Parliament’s committee on the media comes a week after Rupert and James Murdoch testified here before a judicial inquiry into media ethics. The report, months in the making, is certain to add pressure on the Murdochs as their global media empire struggles to deal with the continued fallout from the hacking scandal.

In particular, the report’s most controversial statement, that Rupert Murdoch is unfit to lead an international company, could imperil News Corp.’s nearly 40 percent stake in the television company British Sky Broadcasting. British regulatory authorities are charged with determining whether major stakeholders such as Murdoch are “fit and proper” owners of mass media in Britain.

The committee’s finding on Murdoch’s unfitness was not unanimous. In fact, it led to a bitter split along party lines, with four Conservative Party members refusing to endorse the report on the grounds that such a declaration was outside the scope of the panel’s investigation.

The report was approved on a 6-4 vote.

Committee members stressed they were completely agreed on their finding that three of Murdoch’s senior executives essentially lied to Parliament about phone hacking, which News International insisted for years was confined to one “rogue reporter.”

One of those executives, Colin Myler, is now the editor of the New York Daily News, which is not a Murdoch publication.

Though misleading Parliament is a serious offense, it is unclear what punishment can actually be applied.

The committee called it “astonishing” that Rupert and James Murdoch took so long to find out that phone hacking went far beyond a lone reporter. Police say that thousands of people may have had their phones hacked into by the News of the World in its pursuit of sensational stories.

The scandal exploded in the public consciousness last summer with the revelation that among the hacking victims was a 13-year-old girl who was kidnapped and later found slain.

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