It was a long time coming, but inevitable six months ago. James Murdoch has stepped down as chair of News International, signalling the Fall of the House of Murdoch as the dynastic succession to Rupert's News Corp empire is finished. The official statement - which is probably worth no more than a host of News Corp press statements which have either turned out to be highly misleading in the past (some outright lies indeed)
News Corporation today announced that, following his relocation to the company's headquarters in New York, James Murdoch, deputy chief operating officer, has relinquished his position as executive chairman of News International, its UK publishing unit. Tom Mockridge, chief executive officer of News International, will continue in his post and will report to News Corporation president and COO Chase Carey. "We are all grateful for James' leadership at News International and across Europe and Asia, where he has made lasting contributions to the group's strategy in paid digital content and its efforts to improve and enhance governance programs," said Rupert Murdoch, chairman and chief executive officer, News Corporation. "He has demonstrated leadership and continues to create great value at Star TV, Sky Deutschland, Sky Italia, and BSkyB. Now that he has moved to New York, James will continue to assume a variety of essential corporate leadership mandates, with particular focus on important pay-TV businesses and broader international operations." "I deeply appreciate the dedication of my many talented colleagues at News International who work tirelessly to inform the public and am confident about the tremendous momentum we have achieved under the leadership of my father and Tom Mockridge," said James Murdoch. "With the successful launch of the Sun on Sunday and new business practices in place across all titles, News International is now in a strong position to build on its successes in the future. As deputy chief operating Officer, I look forward to expanding my commitment to News Corporation's international television businesses and other key initiatives across the company."
More as I get it. OK, this is all on the hoof. Yes James resigned from other subsidiary boards several months ago as I detailed in another diary. But this is the biggie: NI was bidding for BSkyB which he also chairs - expect a resignation there too. More news in - still involved in BSkyB - but again this is slow withdrawal. Expect more retreats soon http://www.guardian.co.uk/media/2012/feb/29/james-murdoch-resigns-news-international-chairman
Wednesday's move sees him give up responsibility for News Corp's crisis-hit British newspaper operation as he completes his relocation to New York. The man once seen as his father Rupert Murdoch's automatic heir at the top of News Corp retains existing responsibility for "global television", overseeing busineses including the company's 39% stake in BSkyB, Sky-branded pay-TV companies in Europe and Star in Asia – and only gains the opportunity to become involved with the company's US Fox television operation as he settles in across the Atlantic. James Murdoch's managerial move away from News International explains why he was not in London to help oversee the launch of the Sun's Sunday edition, which has been personally supervised by his father. Friends say he has been eager to leave the UK and drop responsibility for the Wapping newspapers for several months as the phone hacking scandal enveloped the London outpost of the organisation.
And there are rumours of a major arrest in the pipeline.. just sayin' IMPORTANT ASIDE: I've been in touch with Alastair Morgan, whose brother Daniel was brutally murdered in South London in 1988, by suspects with close connection to the NoW hacking team. These same individuals were sponsored by NoW to harass and survey the police detectives re-examining the case in 2002. Ceebs had a diary yesterday about it, Murdoch and Murder. Tom Watson is going to make an important statement at 4pm BST (11 am EST) about Daniel Morgan's murder. I expect, under Parliamentary privilege, he might make some explosive revelations.
Today in Parliament
As expected, the appearance of James Murdoch, the Chief Executive of News International (and related to some other famous people) before the DCMS Committee today failed to produce any huge bombshells. Let's remind ourselves that the Parliamentary Committee has no real powers of subpoena, witnesses are not obliged to testify on oath, is not run by trained lawyers, and is not allowed to investigate anything that could prejudice the three ongoing police investigations.
James is smart, lawyered up, and left no hostages to fortune in terms of his evidence. Tom Watson had some stellar moments, challenging James over various contradictory testimonies, naming three or four other private investigators working for News International (adding some cryptic reference to Operation Millipede), and at least landing a rhetorical blow by calling James
'the first mafia boss in history who didn't know he was running a criminal enterprise.'.
(This latter remark has caused some consternation among Watson's enemies and Murdoch's apologists - but my American friends will know that the Department of Justice IS looking at potential RICO violations by Newscorp)
All in all, another day in the ongoing Murdoch saga. As Britover puts it in an excellent rec-listed diary: Some top line people really need to face jailtime. The most senior executive of the sixteen so far arrested has been Rebekah Brooks: but though James might not feel the hand of the law on his shoulder, the media scrutiny of his performance could be just as damaging in the long run.
But however evasive and well trained James is at avoiding direct questions ("I have no knowledge of that... I don't recall") there are three glaring contradictions that this appearance has underlined.
1. Someone has Misled Parliament over the information provided to James when he authorised an extraordinary 700,000 GBP payment to Gordon Taylor in a civil suit over his phone being hacked by News of the World. James' claim in his previous appearance in July that he had no knowledge of phone hacking beyond the rogue reporter Clive Goodman had been directly contradicted by evidence given by the editor of NOTW at the time, Colin Myler, and News International's chief legal adviser, Tom Crone. They claim they informed James when he made that settlement. James now claims they didn't tell him, and that they misled Parliament rather than him.
TW: Did you mislead this committee?
JM: No I did not
TW: If you didn't who did?
JM I believe his committee was given [evidence] by people without full possession of the facts or...it was economical. My own testimony has been consistent. I testify to this committee with as much clarity and transparency as I can.
TW: Was it Mr Crone [who misled the committee?]
JM: I thought it was inconsistent and
TW: So you agree he misled the committee
JM: It follows that I do. I believe their testimony was misleading and I dispute it
This is a kind of either/or argument that the Committee will comment on: both accounts cannot be true.
2. How can an Effective Chief Executive be so ineffectual? James consistent response to the mounting evidence of extensive phone hacking, blagging and other borderline illegal activities by his staff was 'how am I supposed to know that level of detail'. Fair enough. But when you're making multimillion pound payouts to Gordon Taylor and Max Clifford, with dozens of other suits pending, surely it's your corporate duty to find out.
This is now being called the Asda Moment - 'Asda' is the UK equivalent of Walmart.
After explaining that he used to work for the supermarket chain (owned by the giant US company, Walmart) Davies registered his incredulity that Murdoch could have authorised the payment of more than £500,000 (to Taylor) without inquiring deeply into the reasons.
"It all seems so cavalier to me," said Davies. "You agree to settle cases with no real cap but a ballpark figure. You agree that a company should have a legal opinion, but you don't even ask to see the opinion when it is written."
3. A Fit and Proper Person? Next month is the shareholders meeting of BSkyB, Britain's largest pay-for-TV operator, 39.14% owned by Newscorp. Though the public outcry and online petitioning (by groups such as Avaaz) effectively stopped the full takeover of the company this summer, James still chairs the board. Our broadcast regulator, Ofcom, has a statutory duty to make sure that owners of licensed broadcasters are 'fit and proper' and can revoke a license if a director fails that test.
By the time BSkyB meets next, the DCMS committee will have ruled whether James has deceived Parliament or not.
Is being either/or a 'liar' or completely incompetent enough? Or even better - both.
In other News
Your intrepid reporter made
a fool of himself an appearance outside Parliament for James' testimony. Bedecked like a human press pack, Brit decided to protest about the 30 years of Murdoch influence by sporting a sandwich board illustrated by fellow Kossack Eric Lewis, bearing the understated message:
Murdoch Ruined my Life.
Above you can see him above talking to a French journalist. Tonight he will appear on Al Jazeera. Below he joins members of the Avaaz campaign also picketing parliament.
When it's processed, I'll also post a video of him picketing Portcullis House where James was supposed to arrive, only to be stopped by a policeman and told (much to his shock and amazement) that no protests or placards are allowed within a kilometre of Parliament without prior approval, and I could be arrested. I told the very polite and helpful officer that I wasn't protesting, merely advertising the book I'm writing with Eric Bad Press: Fall of the House of Murdoch. The policeman said he didn't hear that, because advertising without a licence could also earn me a night in the cells.
I'm not as brave as many in the Occupy Movement, and rapidly removed my billboards.
There will be more about the book in later posts. It will be loosely based on my Kossack series of diaries, and focus on the stellar 'crowd sourced' journalism, reportage and activism of my fellow bloggers. It will also be crowd sourced in funding, so we'll be hitting back at the command and control modus operandi of the main stream media both in form and content.
Meanwhile join me below to discuss what you make of this latest chapter in the FOTHOM saga. And do contribute to the dedicated Bad Press: Fall of the House of Murdoch website if you can