Yesterday was one of those days if you have even a slight interest in current affairs you had to turn your eyes to events happening in the Parliamnent where Rupert and James Murdoch plus former News International Chief Executive Rebekah Brooks were appearing before the Culture Media and Sports Select Committee.
2 hours prior to their appearance we had Senior members of the Met Police including outgoing Commissioner Paul Stephenson and Deputy Assistant Commissioner John Yates facing further questioning in relation to their investigation of phone hacking. That was gripping enough and the police admitted again their embarassment of not pushing the investigations further than they should.
One of the more alarming facts to come from Stephenson was that 10 of the 45 press officers at Scotland Yard had previously worked for News of the World! This is worrying and does heightening the cosy relationship between the Yard and News International. It also explains how the News of the World could have got their leaks on any high profile investigations from the yard. The committee then swiftly released a damning report where serious criticisms were laid at senior police officials from the Met Police. How many former News International staff currently work in communications across central government?
The atmosphere in the Murdoch’s hearing was on turbo even before the questioning started. The tension was better then any movie could portray the film version when that come out on release. Tom Watson was quite forensic in line of questioning for Rupert Murdoch and when James Murdoch tried to intervene Watson calmly struck him down and demanded that his father answers. That’s telling them who is charge! To see Rupert Murdoch being ordered by Tom Watson in this fashion was so surreal and just added to the drama which was now electrifying.
The Murdochs admitted that they were not aware that the phone hacking was rife until recently. They also admitted that they were still paying the legal fees of private investigator Glenn Mulcaire. Given Mulcaire has admitted to hacking Milly Dowler’s phone at the time of her disappearance and that Rupert Murdoch apologised in person to the Dowler family last week this was disturbing. Let’s hope the Murdoch do the right thing today and cancel any further financial legal support for Mulcaire and any News of the World journalist that are facing criminal proceedings.
Labour MP Jim Sheridan’s line of questioning was more on political issues and just disappointing. This let the Murdoch’s off the hook and allowed both to relax more at the hearing. Rupert Murdoch told the committee that the PM that he saw the most was Gordon Brown and that he really liked Brown and that, until the former PM’s outburst last week, they were good friends.
This showed once again just what a hypocrite Brown is. Did Brown raise these hacking concerns with his friend Rupert when they met so frequent? Brown should be called as a witness to the Committee to face questions.
Tory MP Phillip Davies put the pressure back on the Murdochs by questioning the money trail in terms of out of court settlements to celebrities who were planning to sue News International for phone hacking. Davies raised the question on why the publicist Max Clifford received over £1 million in compensation while former footballer and Sky Sports presenter Andy Gray was paid over £20 grand? The disparity does look alarming which James Murdoch accept didn’t look right.
Just as Tory MP Louise Mensch was to start her line of questioning the hearing was interrupted by a man who smashed a plate of foam in Rupert Murdoch’s face. Luckily Murdoch’s wife Wendi was there to prevent any serious damage to her husband and wack to assailant. Good on her!
Once again the security of Parliament has been breached so easily. This meant the public were removed from the rest of the hearing. Always take one idiot to make it worse for the rest of us. It was disclose that the idiot was a comedian called James Marbles and he was a member of the Labour Party.
Louise Mensch line of question was a bit light given that she accused Piers Morgan of hacking when asking the Murdoch’s. Mensch used Morgan’s book “The Insider” as evidence that Morgan had done any hacking. In fact Mensch misquoted Morgan and was completely wrong in accusing him of hacking. Given that she made the allegations against Morgan under Parliamentary Privilege Mensch cannot sued for libel. I found this line of questioning shameful and dangerous. If you are going to challenge the Murdochs on their behaviour during the wide spread hacking then MPs must get their facts right when questioning.
See Morgan and Mench clash on CNN http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fsJwM1DnLu4
Overall I felt the Murdoch’s played a blinder. Some political pundits said that Murdoch looked tired and old. He is over 80 for gods sake! What did they expect? They mentioned that he took up to a long 10 seconds to reply to some of the questions. At that age you are entitled to take your time before answering serious questions.
Tom Watson’s line of questioning was very good both with the Murdoch’s and the subsequent questioning of Rebecca Brooks. But once Watson had finished his questioning of Brooks he went missing from hearing.
In addition there was too many closed questions “Mr Murdoch have considered resigning” – “No”.
After the Murdochs left Rebecca Brooks was interviewed by the Committee. She handled herself in a very calm, assured and professional manner.
This was one of the great moments in history and will live in my memory for a long time. Some of the MPs did their line of questioning justice but others you could see either didn’t do their research effectively or just were not up to it. One thing I thought was that there were too many MPs in the Committees which meant the questions were spread across too many of them when in fact the likes of Tom Watson and Nicola Blackwood (Home Affairs) were not given enough time to probe their line of questions. I feel the Committee should have a maximum of 5 MPs to do the questioning which would allow more time for probing.
You get the feeling there is still more fireworks to come.