Saturday, June 16, 2012

Liar: UK Prime Minister Exposes Rupert Murdoch in Leveson Inquiry

News Corp Rupert Murdochby Nomad
Rupert Murdoch, head of the media empire News Corporation, has come under fire in the UK. His newspapers are accused of hacking into private phones in the name of journalism. Questions are now being asked about how much influence did Murdoch actually have in the political process and what was the effect.

The UK media ethics investigation and phone-hacking scandal which threatens to bring down Rupert Murdoch’s vast media empire, News International, has taken a dramatic turn.

A former prime minister has charged that Rupert Murdoch  lied under oath to the Parliamentary inquiry committee investigating allegations of excessive media influence in the political process. 

The Leveson Inquiry
Prime Minister David Cameron took the courageous step of creating a Parliamentary investigatory panel, led by Lord Justice Leveson. The Leveson Inquiry was charged with looking into the claims of illegal phone hacking at Murdoch-owned newspapers, with illicit pay-offs to the police for inside information. Additionally, the inquiry was to look into the wider of issue of British media ethics. (What they could scavenge anyway).
The phone hacking scandal alone has proved to be a major headache for Murdoch and has opened the floodgates for lawsuits. In April, the High Court judge presiding over the hacking litigation cases, was told it was thought there were 4,791 potential victims, 1,892 of whom have been contacted by the police. Investigators now believe that 1,174 of those are "likely victims" of phone hacking by reporters or private investigators working for the News of the World. Most of those cases are expected to go to trial unless New Corp decides to settle. For a full picture of the players, check this BBC site.

More serious are the charges of bribery of the police since this would be a direct violation of the US Foreign Corrupt Practices Act of 1977 which makes it "unlawful for a U.S. person, and certain foreign issuers of securities, to make a payment to a foreign official for the purpose of obtaining or retaining business for or with, or directing business to, any person." C
onceivably, Murdoch could face charges in the US if the Justice Department decided to press the matter. Rumors have been in the air regarding possible charges since 2011.

There is a precedent of its application. According to one source, in 2008, Siemens AG paid a $450 million fine for violating the FCPA. This is one of the largest penalties ever collected by the Department of Justice for an Corrupt Practices case.

Additionally, the inquiry has also been looking into claims that Rupert Murdoch exerted undue influence over the heads of government and that he used his powerful media empire. With so powerful a voice, Murdoch’s support could, it was claimed, have a direct effect on policy.
Damning revelations are coming out on a daily basis. For example, on Friday, Raw Story published an article entitled:
According to the article,
Media mogul Rupert Murdoch allegedly telephoned then-British Prime Minister Tony Blair on March 11, 2003 — eight days before the U.S. invasion of Iraq — and urged him not to do anything that could delay the start of the conflict...

According to the latest revelations, however, Murdoch wanted to let Blair know that his News International would support Britain if it backed the U.S. war. “Murdoch was pushing all the Republican buttons, how the longer we waited the harder it got,” Campbell wrote.
And that suggested that Murdoch had misled the inquiry panel when he claimed that he’d “never asked a prime minister for anything." 
Asked? Perhaps not. Expected, demanded, maybe.

The Effect of Murdoch's Influence in Real Terms
Murdoch's Fox News was a strong supporter of the decision to invade Iraq, and its media coverage proved to be a boon for Murdoch. In terms of ratings, the war in a major success for Fox News. And other media outlets- not part of the Murdoch empire, soon jumped on the war bandwagon. 

What resulted was a catastrophe- something Fox News (or all of the other media outlets) have failed to accept responsibility for. Without the mainstream news media in the US and its 24/7 rush to war, it is doubtful Bush could have justified the invasion. Even with all of the war drum coverage, at its peak, only 64% of the population approved of the invasion.

The part Fox News played in the selling of a foreign policy disaster is highlighted in a study by the University of Maryland. It revealed that people who watched Fox News, in the lead up and after the invasion of Iraq, were- more than for other sources- convinced of several untrue propositions which were actively promoted by the Bush administration and the cheerleading media led by Fox, in rallying support for the invasion of Iraq.

This, then, was the true nature of the offer made to Blair by Murdoch.
According to Blair, it was Iraq's failure to take a "final opportunity" to rid itself of the alleged nuclear, chemical, and biological weapons. Both US and UK leaders demanded that Iraq come clean about this threat to world peace. At the time, Iraq denied having the weapons of mass destruction as charged and the invasion went ahead. Later, the CIA in 2005 released a report saying that, just as the Iraqi officials had maintained, no weapons of mass destruction had been located in Iraq.

Therefore, the effect of Murdoch's tampering in foreign policy has had grave consequences and should not be taken lightly. According to Washington Post, from 2003 until 2008, the total cost to the United States of the Iraq war at $3 trillion but by the time the Iraq war was formally ended, those estimates were consider far too low. 
More importantly, at least some of the blood of 3,990 American troops who lost their lives and the 29,395 who were wounded is on Murdoch's hands. (For a full cost of the Iraq war check this site.) 

Prime Ministers on Parade
Blair was not the only prime minister to see the frown of Murdoch. The Leveson inquiry heard testimony from Sir John Major- the Conservative prime minister from 1990 to 1997. Major told the inquiry panel:
"It became apparent in discussion that Mr Murdoch really didn't like our European policies, which was no surprise to me, and he wished me to change our European policies...If we couldn't ... his paper would not and could not support the Conservative Government".
It's an interesting and subtle choice of words. "He wished me to change" sounds more like a command, rather than a general desire or even a polite request.
In the latest brouhaha? In April of this year, Britain's media ethics inquiry in heard Murdoch also claimed that Prime Minister Brown, in effect, threw down the gauntlet to Murdoch, with an angry phone call in September 2009 after the Sun dropped its support of Brown’s Labour Party. He told the inquiry panel that Mr. Brown had called because Murdoch had thrown his support his rival in the upcoming election. 
Murdoch had told the inquiry:
"I don't think he was in a very balanced state of mind."
"We were talking more quietly than you or I are now - he said, 'Well, your company has declared war on my government and we have no alternative but to make war on your company.'"
 He then told the committee that the call had concluded with a polite sign off.
'I said "I'm sorry about that Gordon, thank you for calling" and that was that.
However, when Gordon Brown was called before the panel, he flatly denied, not only that he had said those words to Murdoch but that the phone call had taken place at all. Gordon used the words “misled” but it was clear what Brown was actually saying was Murdoch had flat-out lied. 
And, unlike Murdoch, Brown had evidence to show the inquiry panel.

After all, it is one thing to recall incorrectly a few details of a conversation. It is quite another to make up the whole event. From a purely tactically point of view, the clumsy attempted innuendo that Brown might be mentally unstable was a resounding blunder for Murdoch, damaging not only his memory but his what remained of his already-tattered credibility. Why would he have said such a thing? Was it some kind of threat aimed at Brown? Who can tell. Whatever the real story might have been, it seems to have backfired.
Brown said Murdoch was wrong about the date and the contents of the phone call, and supplied records which showed he made just two calls to Murdoch in 2009, one in March and one in November. He said this was a complete list of calls to Murdoch.

Brown also submitted as evidence to the inquiry statements by five of his advisers that show none of the five heard Brown threaten Murdoch on the call in question, which Brown said focused on The Sun's coverage of the war in Afghanistan.
And Brown’s denial of Murdoch’s statements were further supported by his staff.
Aides, including Brown's special adviser, director of strategy and deputy chief of staff, said he made no such threat on the call, which took place on November 10. Murdoch had said the call took place on September 30.
"I listened to the phone call between Mr Brown and Mr Murdoch in November 2009," Stewart Wood, special adviser to the Prime Minister's office, said in a statement dated October 2011 that Reuters has seen.
"At no point in the conversation was threatening language of any sort used by either Mr Brown or Mr Murdoch," Wood said.
More recently, Brown's denial and the implication of Murdoch's lying under oath to the committee were supported by the Cabinet Office. The BBC reports: 
..The Cabinet Office has now released a statement which Mr Brown says confirms his evidence to Leveson.

It says: "Following Gordon Brown's evidence to the Leveson Inquiry on Monday we have received a number of questions about our records, which we provided to Mr Brown to support his preparations for the inquiry.

"We can confirm that there is a record of only one call between Mr Brown and Rupert Murdoch in the year to March 2010.

"That call took place on the 10th of November 2009.

"This was followed up by an email from Gordon Brown to Rupert Murdoch on the same day referring to the earlier conversation on Afghanistan.

"Four witness statements have been submitted to the inquiry on the content of the call by staff who worked in No 10 Downing Street and who were the four and sole personnel on the phone call."
A spokesman for New Corporation later told reporters rather blankly:
"Rupert Murdoch stands behind his testimony.'
Naturally. What else would anybody have expected? It's what spokesmen are supposed to say. There doesn’t appear to anything more that can be said. Somebody is lying and the Prime Minister has the weight of evidence to back his version up. Attorneys are, however, cautioning that proving perjury beyond all reasonable doubt would be a challenge. The maximum sentence for perjury carries a sentence of seven years in England.

Deeply Troubled
Rebekah Mary Brooks
Regardless whether the committee chooses to pursue perjury charges against Murdoch or not, this latest blow comes on the heels of the arrest of former Chief Executive Officer of News International, editor of The Sun, Rebekah Mary Brooks. Brooks had also appeared before the inquiry testifying about the charges of phone-hacking.
Brooks had -until her fall- been a Murdoch creature, rising quickly to editor positions within New International papers. Many considered her relationship with Rupert Murdoch on the order of family member.
And yet, even Murdoch, with his influence crumbling, was not able to save Brooks when push came to shove. 

On 17 July 2011, Brooks was arrested by police on suspicion of conspiring to intercept communications and on suspicion of corruption allegations. She was released on bail but then March 2012, Brooks was re-arrested, together with her husband, on suspicion of conspiracy to pervert the course of justice. Not a small matter, at all.
Incidentally, during this testimony Mr. Brown also cast doubt on another claim made by Brooks in her own statements to the panel, regarding a Sun report that Brown's son, Fraser, had been diagnosed with cystic fibrosis. According to Brooks, the Browns had given permission to print details about their son's health. 
Brown held nothing back when he told the panel:
"I have never sought to bring my children into the public domain," Brown said. He denied his consent had been given to publish the story. "I find it sad that even now in 2012 members of the News

International staff are coming to this inquiry and maintaining this fiction."
All that ties back into the other violations of personal privacy that had become a standard matter of business for the media empire. Nobody was immune, from the Prime Minister's wives, to celebrities, to the family of a teenage girl who had been murdered.
Because of the scandals, Rupert Murdoch’s son, James Murdoch, was forced to resign from his position as News Corp’s Executive Chairman of its U.K. newspaper arm. The inquiry panel grilled James Murdoch and his version of events in the phone hacking scandal, especially that he was unaware of what had become common-though illegal- tactic for News Corp reporters. 

In summer of last year, News Corp’s second largest shareholder, Saudi Prince Alwaleed bin Talal Al Saud, voiced his support for Murdoch. Not everybody is so dismissive and in some quarters, concerns appear to growing that Murdoch is finished. There has been no comment to this latest news. 
According to The Guardian:
Advisers to News Corporation shareholders say they are "deeply troubled" by the performances of Rupert and James Murdoch at the Leveson inquiry into media ethics.
US shareholders are said to be worried that the Murdochs' testimony .. has raised new questions about the management of the company and posed potential threats to other areas of its media empire....
Michael Pryce-Jones, senior policy analyst with Change To Win (CtW), a US advisory group that works with pension funds with over $200bn in assets, said the Murdochs' testimony raised two immediate concerns for shareholders:
"More and more the focus of this inquiry is on Rupert," he said. "He pleaded ignorance on so many issues. Shareholders need to know if he is being honest with them."
Mr. Brown’s charge the Murdoch misled the inquiry investigators will, in all probability, further undermine his credibility with stockholders.
[Pryce-Jones] said the big fear in the US would be that revelations of the companies overly close ties with UK politicians would spark similar investigations into News Corp's ties with America's political elite.
Sleep well, Mr. Pryce-Jones, there seems to be little chance of that.  But here is the kicker:
"Fox News is one of their best assets. They've got their partisan stance. It's got to have credibility," he said.
Really, Mr. Pryce-Jones, haven't you ever watched Fox News? Credibility went out the window a long long time ago.
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