Rupert and James Murdoch recently endured three days of questioning as part of the Leveson Inquiry. They were called forward to discuss allegations of phone hacking by the now-disbanded News of The World and conduct within their organisation, News Corporation, of which Rupert Murdoch is owner and chairman. Controversy has engulfed the pair since the closure of the Sunday tabloid, a product of News International, a company to which News Corp is parent.
This is the first time the Murdochs have appeared in front of the inquiry; prior to James Murdoch’s appearance on April 24th, they had been publicly questioned only by the Culture, Media and Sport Select Committee in the summer of 2011.
Over the past eight months, the Leveson Inquiry has dominated the headlines with its discoveries of malpractice within the British press. Broadly speaking, the inquiry is investigating the culture of the press and is striving to uncover unethical conduct.
The Inquiry’s most well-known discovery revealed that reporters from the News of the World had tapped the phone of a murdered schoolgirl, Milly Dowler, in July 2011. As of November 2011, 50 others, ranging from celebrities to politicians, have been listed as victims of hacking.
During his hearing on April 24th James Murdoch reiterated previous testimony claiming that he never saw an email implying more than one reporter was involved in phone hacking. Speaking on April 26th Rupert Murdoch admitted “I am guilty of not having paid enough attention to the News of the World, probably throughout all of the time that we’ve owned it”. However, he also claimed that he had been “shielded” from the full extent of the paper’s hacking.
What is bizarre about the Murdochs is their consistent insistence of ignorance, and their tactic of pushing blame on to other members of staff while expecting to escape harm or judgement themselves. James Murdoch has argued that although he was included in a thread of emails that alluded to phone hacking, he did not read or see them because he had just returned from a trip.
It is implausible that, in an organisation where phone hacking happened on multiple occasions, the Murdochs had almost no awareness of it. Even if their involvement was minimal, the very fact that this practice occurred speaks volumes as to the nature of the business they run.
The Murdoch empire holds a worrying amount of power in the sense that despite being scathed by recent coverage, it will still continue to operate and dominate the press. Is it truly enough for the committee who initially questioned Rupert Murdoch to accuse him of “wilful blindness” and selective ignorance, while allowing him to walk away and continue to control a major corporation? Despite criticism against him mounting, there are still plenty of loyalists and shareholders willing to shield him.
For now, both the Leveson Inquiry and the Murdochs’ work continues; but once the Inquiry’s findings are published, with a little luck, wrongdoing at News International will be further questioned, and so will the Murdochs’ place at the top of one of the world’s most powerful media conglomerates.