A British parliamentary committee delivered a damning judgment on Rupert Murdoch, head of the multinational News Corp, yesterday, accusing him of not being "a fit person" to run a major global business.
The culture, media and sport committee concluded in its report on the phone-hacking scandal that the 81-year-old media magnate showed "wilful blindness" to wrongdoing at mass-circulation tabloid newspapers, particularly the News of the World, published by his company.
The thrust of the report was to some extent blunted by its partisan nature. The 11-member committee is politically divided and four Conservatives, whose party rules in coalition with Lib Dems, refused to endorse the description of Mr Murdoch as "not a fit person" to control a major company.
However, they agreed with the report's general findings. One Conservative committee member, Louise Mensch, said it was a "great shame" that the political split - the opposition Labour party, which had five members on the committee, has long regarded Mr Murdoch as a hate figure - potentially damaged the report's credibility.
In its conclusions, the committee was dismissive of Mr Murdoch's testimony that his alleged lack of oversight of what was going on at the News of the World was due to it representing less than one per cent of the company as a whole.
The report said: "This self-portrayal ... as a hands-off proprietor … is entirely at odds with numerous other accounts, including those of previous editors and from Rebekah Brooks [former editor of both the News of the World and The Sun, later chief executive of News International], who told us she spoke to Rupert Murdoch regularly and 'on average, every other day',
"It was, indeed, we consider, a misleading account of his involvement and influence with his newspapers ... we conclude that, if at all relevant times Rupert Murdoch did not take steps to become fully informed about phone-hacking, he turned a blind eye and exhibited wilful blindness to what was going on in his companies and publications."
The report said this culture permeated from the top throughout the organisation and spoke volumes about a "lack of effective corporate governance", adding: "We conclude, therefore, that Rupert Murdoch is not a fit person to exercise the stewardship of a major international company."
News Corp and especially News International, its UK newspaper publishing division, has been hit hard by revelations of illegal or unethical methods employed by journalists at its two best-selling UK newspapers, the News of the World - a Sunday newspaper - and its daily the Sun.
Hundreds of people, mainly celebrities and public figures but also individuals caught up into tragic news events, including families of British soldiers killed in Afghanistan or the 7/7 London bombings, had their phones hacked. Payments were made in return for information to police officers and other officials.
Disgust at the conduct of the News of the World deepened considerable with the disclosure that the paper had hacked the mobile phone of Milly Dowler, a 13-year-old murder victim.
That newspaper was abruptly closed last summer, though the explanation that this was a response to the scandal, and not at least partly a commercial move, has been undermined by the subsequent launch of The Sun on Sunday, an event predicted by some media observers at the time of its predecessor's closure.
The report from members of the British parliament, which resumed work last year after other newspapers exposed the extent of the scandal, was widely seen as more scathing than expected.
The committee heard testimony, which was broadcast internationally, from Mr Murdoch as well as his son James, former chairman of News International. It judged as "simply not credible" the proposition that Rupert Murdoch knew nothing of the widespread nature of wrongdoing.
Mr Murdoch had "excellent powers of recall and grasp of detail when it suited him," the report stated.
James Murdoch was accused in the report of displaying "wilful ignorance" about what had been going on, which "clearly raises questions of competence". Other named executives were alleged to have given misleading evidence to the committee. They were Les Hinton, former News International chairman; Colin Myler, former editor of the News of the World, and Tom Crone, former legal manager.
The dispute over how harshly Rupert Murdoch should be judged was highlighted by one Conservative committee member, Philip Davies, who said there had been no evidence to support this "completely ludicrous" conclusion. But Tom Watson, a Labour MP who proved a scourge of the Murdochs during their testimony, said Rupert Murdoch "more than any individual alive" was to blame for phone hacking.
The report said it was for the House of Commons, the lower house of the British legislature, to decide whether any witnesses had been in contempt of parliament, and if so, what punishment they should face.
At a news conference yesterday, News Corp criticised what it described as the “unjustified and highly partisan” nature of commentary by several members of the committee.
Rupert Murdoch said that an internal probe at his British newspaper arm found no evidence of illegal conduct within the group’s The Times and Sunday Times papers, other than one incident which it made public months ago.