Wednesday 24 May 2017

Murdoch arrives in Britain to face storm

'Thank you and goodbye' reads last front page of redtop to hit the streets

News Corporation chairman Rupert Murdoch. Photo: PA
News Corporation chairman Rupert Murdoch. Photo: PA
Jerome Reilly

Jerome Reilly

As the "toxic" News of the World hits the news stands for the last time, embattled media mogul Rupert Murdoch flies into Britain this weekend with his son and heir apparent James Murdoch.

The News Corp chiefs are facing corporate legal battles on both sides of the Atlantic, while News International CEO Rebekah Brooks is expected to be questioned by UK police over her role in the scandal.

Last night, the 80-year-old media mogul announced that Rebekah Brooks had his "total" support and claimed that no management changes were planned as a result of the scandal. "I'm not throwing innocent people under the bus," Murdoch added.

Closure of the News of the World means the loss of jobs for 280 reporters, editors and other employees in the UK. A further 22 full-time and 10 part-time staff were employed in its Irish operation.

In a further blow to the Murdoch empire, more than €1.2bn was wiped off the market value of BSkyB on Friday.

The News Corp media conglomerate and James Murdoch himself could face corporate legal battles under America's Foreign Corrupt Practices Act (FCPA) and the UK's Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act 2000, which outlaws the interception of communications.

James Murdoch has already admitted that he misled Britain's parliament over the phone hacking, although he said he did not have a complete picture at the time.

Senior executives at News International are understood to have been warned by the Metropolitan Police that their chief executive, Ms Brooks, will be expected to present herself at a London police station to give a full account of the extent of her actions during the period from 2000 to 2003, when she was editor of the now disgraced paper.

The newspaper had a print run of five million copies for its last edition today. It had the third-highest sales of any newspaper in the Republic after the Sunday World and the market leader, the Sunday Independent.

Ms Brooks will also be asked to clarify whether she authorised payments to police officers in return for information. "We've been told that Rebekah will be questioned by police in connection with their enquiries over the conspiracy to hack phones and making payments to officers. There has been contact from the police to prepare the company for this," a senior News International source said.

"There is a lot of anger here that she has seemed to be untouched by, the fallout that is seeing good, innocent journalists lose their jobs, but it was always going to be a matter of time before the police turned to her."

But News International last night denied a potentially devastating allegation that police were investigating the suspected deletion of emails by an executive at the company. The allegation was published in the Guardian yesterday, which reported: "Police are investigating evidence that a News International executive may have deleted millions of emails from an internal archive in an apparent attempt to obstruct Scotland Yard's inquiry into the phone-hacking scandal.

"The archive is believed to have reached back to January 2005, revealing daily contact between News of the World editors, reporters and outsiders, including private investigators. The messages are potentially highly valuable both for the police and for the numerous public figures who are suing News International."

Meanwhile, Ian Paisley Jnr has asked the Metropolitan Police to extend phone-hacking inquiries into papers in Northern Ireland. He said all UK newsrooms including those in the province should come "under suspicion" following the News of the World scandal. He also challenged local papers to "come clean" and state if they engaged in the practice.

In another development, former Labour spin doctor Alastair Campbell said the Daily Mail could soon be under the same pressure as Rupert Murdoch's organisation. Campbell referred to the fact the Daily Mail and Mail on Sunday were guilty of more than 1,200 instances of illegal trade in information by journalists or by agents, including private detectives working for them, according to 'What Price Privacy Now?', a 2006 report produced by the Information Commissioner's Office in the UK which also found that the Irish Daily Mail was directly responsible for three dubious transactions.

"The previous work of the Information Commissioner [will be] a useful starting point when seeking answers as to why newspapers need to spend so much on private detectives like Stephen Whittamore, Jonathan Rees, Glenn Mulcaire and many more," Mr Campbell said yesterday.

It also emerged yesterday that News International had hired a research consultancy to explore how the company could re-introduce a Sunday tabloid into the market to replace the News of the World. It follows confirmation that the company was behind the registration of the domain name sunonsunday.co.uk.

The scandal is heaping pressure on UK Prime Minister David Cameron. The former News of the World editor Andy Coulson, who resigned as David Cameron's director of communications in January, was released on bail on Friday after being questioned for nine hours over allegations of corruption. Mr Cameron is also a personal friend of Rebekah Brooks and attended her wedding.

Downing Street officials said yesterday: "The PM has announced a judge-led inquiry. We have already approached the Lord Chief Justice, who will propose the judge. We will continue to proceed as rapidly as possible and [as is] legally permissible and engage party leaders as set out by the prime minister."

The Financial Times also suggested yesterday that the scandal could yet derail Rupert Murdoch's bid to take full control of British Sky Broadcasting.

The FT pointed out that hedge funds which had previously seen BSkyB's sale to News Corp "as all but a done deal have begun to dump their positions".

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