The Culture Committee, a concept so absurd it could have come from the pages of Orwell, has decided that Rupert Murdoch is not a ‘fit person to exercise the stewardship of a major international company’.
Of course none of these people has been even within a large sniff of the head of an international company, and, having had a look, seem to be careful not to list any former business positions they may have held (probably none).
They are not authorised (nor qualified) to judge whether someone can be the head of a company. They may (just) be authorised to pronounce on whether someone should hold a broadcasting licence.
Here we get to the nitty gritty. For myself, I would have approved the News International bid for the equity it did not hold in BSkyB, for the simple reason that the broadcasting market already contains a quasi-monopoly player – the BBC - and a bit of competition from a medium sized player would be good for the consumer and good for the market.
The only caveat I would have made to this approval is if the Murdochs were deemed not fit and proper people to hold a UK broadcasting licence. This isn’t completely easy: there has been ‘phone hacking (my guess is that this was more common among the other tabloids than we yet know) and it seems clear they have lied to a commons committee about their investigations into it.
I think it possible that Murdoch and his son James did not know precisely what was going on but that the hacking was a result of the pressures to produce results in a culture they introduced, and that they failed to install the management systems to prevent their employees’ activities from becoming illegal.
But....I think the hacked people – who had their messages hacked by News International staff knowing their ‘phone numbers and guessing the password for messages – have only themselves to blame if they were public figures or people in charge of secrets. This does not of course include the family of Milly Dowler the murdered schoolgirl, but we now know that incident was not nearly as bad as it was initially made out to be.
So the Murdochs are guilty. Exactly what they are guilty of is another matter. Hugh Grant not changing his password regularly is like someone leaving his house unlocked who is subsequently burgled. The burglar is guilty, of course, but the victim is an idiot.
Against which we have to set the obvious good that Rupert Murdoch has done for the British Press. People with long memories may remember that it resisted all new technology, that jobs were passed from father to son, that no one could say a bad word about the union: all these things were the signs of a very unhealthy free press, and Murdoch, single-handedly, saved us from that.
I would have allowed the BskyB bid probably 70/30, the caveat being unless Murdoch were to be found not a fit and proper person to hold a broadcasting licence. For me the second matter – the fit and proper issue - is closer, but I would have let him carry on 55/45.