Spying on lawyers, paying police officers, hacking phones, buying silence; as we listened to the litany of charges against News Corporation I think James Murdoch had also come to our parliamentary select committee to deliver his own message straight from the script of The Godfather. Channelling Michael Corleone [from early in the film, before he shot the police officer] he was trying to say, "That's my family. It's not me." Or in this case, that's was my company, it's not me.
He came to apologise for what had happened in the past, for the aggressive way the company had reacted to criticism and for misleading statements given by executives.
If there was a mea culpa, it was that as a young chief executive he had relied too much on the counsel of the old family retainers. He told us that, with regards to the decision to agree the out of court settlement for the Gordon Taylor case, that he was given "a very, very strong recommendation by senior and experienced legal counsel and the editor of the News of the World, who had been with the business for some time and in the industry for some time."
James Murdoch admitted that "we relied on the repeated assertions from inside the company around the quality, scope and breadth of the internal investigations" into phone hacking and other potential areas of illegality. And with regards to the previous Select Committee inquiry and stories produced by other news organisations that, "If there was a mistake...it was the tendency for a period of time to react to criticism or allegations as being hostile, or motivated commercially or politically."
Also, and crucially with regards to the lessons that have to be learned for future oversight of the media that, "one of the real lessons learned here is to avoid allowing the newsroom to investigate
As well as trying to reassure us that the process of normalising News Corporation is well underway, he also tried to tell us that he would be tougher, and not try to protect previously loyal members of the firm who had done wrong. He seized on a comment in the notes of a conversation between Colin Myler and Julian Pike from Farrer and Co, who was acting for the company in the Gordon Taylor phone hacking case. Here Myler states that James Murdoch would want to cut out the "cancer" within the company if he knew what was going on. Murdoch commented that, "perhaps he was worried about raising these issues with me, because I would have said, 'Get rid of them all', and I would have said, 'Cut out the cancer.'"
He had a final word as well about allegations around the use of private investigators to follow MPs and lawyers representing claimants against his company, "it is appalling. It is something I would never condone and the company should never condone."
We have to remember that these reforms and apologies would not be forthcoming without the very public trial that the company has been put through. I said in the committee hearing that whilst News Corporation might not be the mafia, this has hardly been a textbook example of good practice from the pages of Management Today. This story has damaged the company and, regardless of his defence, it has led to people question James Murdoch's abilities.
Yet, it may be that whoever is to succeed Rupert Murdoch needs to have gone through the process of walking through the fire, so that they can emerge stronger on the other side, and more able to face down the old advisers, question practices and lead in their own way. Time will soon tell whether this process has actually taken James Murdoch a step closer to being that man, rather than destroying his chances as many had expected.
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