The Leveson enquiry: a storm in a media teacup?

May 15, 2012

In the UK, there could be a gigantic political scandal unfolding involving the Prime Minister, the Chancellor of the Exchequer, Rupert Murdoch, and a considerable number of their colleagues and close personal friends

On the other hand…

On the other hand, much of what is being reported may amount to a gigantic storm in a media teacup, amounting to little more than evidence of powerful people behaving with illusions of omniscience.

The tantalising question is whether we are witnessing an important series of events in political history in the UK in the early decades of the 21st century. Or not.

Timeline

Leaders we deserve reported on the breaking news stories emerging from the Leveson enquiry [in an earlier post April 23rd – May 10th, 2012].

May 28th Tony Blair’s testimony

Tony Blair’s involvement with the media was explored chronologically. He gave his expected well-prepared presentation. The self- image which ran through his book [reviewed among other places in Leaders we deserve] hardly appeaared to have changed.

His emphasis on power and power-relationships came through as he portrayed his own belefs that as prime Minister he sought to “manage not take on” the media. He drew parallels with [Labour] Union power. Of interest, he considered the owener of media to be less important than their appropriate managemment.

A brief moment of dramaas a protester burst into the room (ca 11.30 am) hurling “War criminal” accusation at T.B., before being hustled away

May 24th

Another week of compelling winesses. Yesterday Jeremy Paxman whose evidence suggested malpractice from the Mirror group. Today, Adam Smith whose evidence adds to the pressure on Culture and Media Secretary Jeremy Hunt as his special advisor in the ‘quasi-judicial role played by Hunt in the BSkyB case.

May 18th

Six children killed in a house fire. Is the case one for the Leveson enquiry? The deaths of six children in Derbyshire may be as relevant to the Leveson enquiry as that of the hacking of the voice mail of murdered teenager Millie Dowler.

The father of the children, Mick Philpott, acquired notoriety in a media campaign five years ago as “a benefits scrounger” who was reported as asking for a larger house to accommodate his extended family and more of his seventeen children.

May 15th 2012

Breaking news: Rebekah Brooks is charged for offenses relating to phone-hacking. The issue is said to be one ‘hanging over the government’ until the next election.

Lord Levinson announces intention to ‘say something significant on recent events’ at 2pm local time.

Levinson statement [2pm May 15th 2012]

Lord L had prepared an extended statement. He indicated yesterday [and earlier] that his remit was to explore evidence of Government/Press relations. In his statement, he reviewed various events which indicated the focus of his concern. These reprised his need to operate in a strictly neutral fashion, when there were political issues being considered by Parliament.

In this respect, he quoted extensively from Hansard [the official political record] on questions relating to the enquiry, and specifically the issue of making information requested from it available to Parliament, including a ruling from speaker John Berkow.

His statement also focused on the ‘leaking’ of information to News International. The statement implied that he would have to consider excluding from the enquiry any areas which he considered risked its independence and fairness.

It appears that there are ‘hard to resolve’ issues [dilemmas] here. The politicians are using the information leaked as part of a campaign attacking Jeremy Hunt through his disgraced special advisor Adam Smith. Lord Leveson is concerned about the fairness of the enquiry being placed at risk by politicised debate in Parliament.

May 15th 2012

Levison’s statement of May 15th in seen by The Telegraph as ‘defending the enquiry’

New York Times outlines prosecution of Rebekah Brooks as the most recent and easiest of charges of concealing evidence. More charges may follow which will embroil prominent politicians.

May 14th 2012

The Guardian newspaper was described last week by former Sun editor Rebekah Brooks, as a leading member of the ‘anti-Sky coalition’. The newspaper continues its reporting with an article drawing attention to the Chancellor’s involvement with Sky International executives at the time of the Government’s investigations of the proposed takeover of BSkyB by News International.

To be continued

This post will be updated regularly until further notice.


Decline of a dynasty? Elisabeth Murdoch ducks board position on News Corp

August 6, 2011

Elisabeth Murdoch has declined an invitation to be nominated for a place on the board of News Corp. The move signals a decline in the prospects of a Murdoch dynasty

Rupert Murdoch’s actions over a period of years suggests his intentions of establishing a Murdoch dynasty at News Corp. The story has all the drama of a TV soap opera with a dash of reality TV as well. Part of the interest has been over which sibling would be most favoured to succeed the tycoon.

Any Murdoch is better than none

It has been suggested by biographers that any Murdoch would be prefered to someone outside the family. This is harder to achieve in a world in which there are interested parties or stakeholders. These extend to institutional investors, and governments concerned with Corporate responsibilities for ethical governance.

As might be expected, the eldest son Lachlan was front runner for heir to Rupert before signalling his reluctance to pursue a career in News Corp although remaining on the board. This placed youngest son James as a front runner in the speculation stakes. The 2011 problems of governance in the proposed takeover of Sky may have weakened the chances of James, but arguably have weakened the chances of all the Murdoch family to take over at the top of News Corp.

Elisabeth

Rupert Murdoch has no prejudice against women as business leaders. Elisabeth Murdoch was for a while a front-runner as his heir, and has demonstrated considerable leadership flair in creating her own media businesses. However, Elisabeth has, like Lachlan implied that her interests would lie outside the top job at News Corp. However, her interests have remained intertwined with those of her father.
Although allegations of nepotism have been made, there can be little doubt of her capabilities to manage large media operations.

According to the BBC

News Corp said Elisabeth Murdoch, 42, told [News Corp] directors that it would be “inappropriate” to join the board. She was expected to join the News Corp board after it bought Shine Group, the television production company she runs.

Prudence

Rupert’s eldest daughter Prudence MacLeod sits on the board of Times Newspapers Ltd, part of News International.

Then there’s Wendi

Rupert’s formidable wife Wendi has been considered a serious candidate for some while. A trust-fund established for their children has become a critical aspect within the power relationships in the extended family.

Leaders born and made

Dynasties provide rich materials for students of leadership. The eventual winners in the succession stakes sometimes justify what others call nepotism. Often however, second and third generation family members lack the entrepreneurial flair of the founders.


The Guardian’s brilliant map-testing and map-making in Murdoch meltdown

July 19, 2011

The crisis at NewsCorp has been produced in no small part by brilliant investigative journalism from The Guardian newspaper. Their analysis of Sir Paul Stephenson’s resignation demonstrates how a story can be read and tested for its credibility to help reshape public beliefs

Journalists are attempting to create new stories all the time. This is a process which metaphorically examines what is known (map reading), tests its credibility (map testing) and offers re-interpretations (map making).

As the crisis unfolded [in July 2011], the Guardian’s daily accounts became the first ‘go to’ for many who had not been regular readers. A nice example of its approach can be found in its treatment of the resignation of Sir Paul Stephenson
as chief of the Metropolitan Police.

An interpretation

The piece was presented as ‘an interpretation’ of the resignation statement. The map was presented as provided by official sources. Its contents were scrutinised to get behind the text (map-testing). By focussing in such a way, a story behind the story emerges. For example:

When Sir Paul writes that he has no knowledge of the phone hacking in 2006

The Guardian notes: Reminds people that the original inquiry happened on Sir Ian Blair’s watch… nothing to do with him

When Sir Paul writes that his meetings with the NOTW deputy editor Neil Wallis were a matter of public record

The Guardian notes: Between September 2006 and June 2009, Stephenson had seven dinners with Neil Wallis. That’s a lot of dinners for a deputy editor. The meetings weren’t “public” until this weekend.

When Sir Paul notes that unlike former NOTW Editor Andy Coulson, who had been employed by Prime Minister David Cameron, deputy Editor Neil Wallis had never been convicted or associated with the phone-hacking issue

The Guardian notes: Stephenson is effectively saying to Cameron: Your guy is smellier than my guy. It leaves Cameron vulnerable to the question: if the Met chief is willing to take responsibility and resign, why don’t you?

The map-making continues

The last piece of map-testing had become part of the questioning of those interviewed about their insights yesterday [July 18th 2011], including London’s mayor Boris Johnson. Boris was announcing the resignation of Sir Paul’s deputy, John Yates, the latest casuality in the crisis. Quizzed on Sir Paul he was somewhat less ebullient than usual, and rather unenthusiastically refused to agree that David Cameron should resign for lack of judgement in the Andy Coulson affair.

Making sense of a complex story

The Guardian method of analysis is worth studying by any student wishing to test the accuracy of some text. It can be extended to ‘reading’ of situations of all kinds.


Murdoch Meltdown

July 17, 2011

Elisabeth Murdoch and father Rupert

In three turbulent weeks in July 2011, Rupert Murdoch faced a complete meltdown of his global corporation News Corp. The crisis has a timeline which can be traced to the imprisonment in 2004 of a few ‘rogue’ journalists in one newspaper, the News of the World. This spread to allegations of a culture of corruption and phone hacking at the NOTW, and its closure. The story continued to spread with political fallout reaching the wider global corporation

We concentrate on the turbulent weeks at the start of July 2011, after briefly reviewing the wider timeline of events.

BBC Timeline

The BBC gave a good summary of the timeline of events from 2000 to July 20th 2011. although for whatever reason, overlooked the dimension of police corruption which is also to be found within the story. The Timeline It begins with the appointment of Rebekah Wade (later Rebekah Brooks) as editor of News of the World in May 2000, and ends with her resignation as Chief Executive of News International, July 15th 2011

Resignation of a News Corp executive fuels the wider story

Within hours of Rebekah Brooks tendering her resignation as head of News International, her predecessor Les Hinton, one of Rupert Murdoch’s closest lieutenants in the United States, fell on his sword, saying that the pain his reporters had inflicted on innocent people was “unimaginable”. Mr Hinton has been the publisher of The Wall Street Journal since Mr Murdoch bought it in 2007 and his continuing presence was threatening to drag the media mogul’s prize US newspaper asset into the scandal.

Two symbolic events

Two events received particular media attention. They were presented as reflecting a callous culture, which ignored the impact of behaviours on members of the public who were already victims of tragic events. Each story involved journalists who had targeted families of victims of highly emotive tragedies. In the UK, the definitive episode involved tampering with the mobile of the murdered teenager Millie Dowler which may have given false hope to the family. Rupert Murdoch was to meet and apologise personally.

In the USA, allegations developed of hacking of phones of families of victims of the 9/11 World Trade Center bombings.

An unfinished case

This post ends [17th July 2011] at the start of a week which promises more in the unfinished drama surrounding Rupert Murdoch and the business empire he founded. One interesting theme is being reported concerning his daughter Elisabeth, on whom it is reported he is now pinning his hopes to take the dynasty forward. This is certainly consistent with a story that has cropped up from time to time within biographic accounts.


News of the World killed off. But who is the prime suspect?

July 8, 2011

The News of the World met a violent and unsuspected death in July 2011. A long list of suspects has been drawn up. Collusion between some of them can not be ruled out

In the early evening of July 7th 2011, Former Editor of The News of the World Rebekah Brooks, and now CEO of the holding group News International, addresses the staff of the NOTW and drops a bombshell. The paper is to end publication after next Sunday’s edition. It is believed that the unsuspecting Editor Colin Myer learned of the decision a few minutes earlier.

The NOTW was in serious trouble over a crisis which had strengthened in intensity over a period of days. But the speculation had concentrated on actions that had taken place when Ms Brooks was editor. The issue seemed to be more on whether Ms Brooks would be held responsible, and therefore would lose her job.

Background

The story had begun to dominate the headlines in the UK for some days. It was summed up in one executive briefing as follows:

It has long been public knowledge that NOTW journalists (and more recently “investigators” acting on their behalf so as to distance the journalists and the paper itself) have had a cosy relationship with certain police officers – a relationship that often crossed over into bribery for tips and other information. It is the brutal release of this information to the wider public and the raising of the matter in Parliament that has at last blown the lid off the NOTW.
The newspaper has been embroiled in a scandal over the hacking into mobile phones and that, too, reached a new level of disgrace when it was revealed this week that the paper’s agents had (allegedly) listened into the calls, and read SMSs, of victims of the London terrorist attacks on 7 July 2007 and to the messages of murdered teenagers.

David Cameron and his chums

The current story has embroiled Prime Minister Cameron who is a close friend on Ms Brooks, and who had also hired another former editor Andy Coulson as his Press Officer on coming to power in 2010. Coulson later resigned for his involvement in some of the phone-tapping allegations.

The sins of the fathers

The announcement may be seen as a case of the sins of the fathers visited on the children. The paper’s current editor and staff claim to have cleaned of the previous culture within the paper.

The major allegations against the paper refer to events that occurred under an earlier regime. These implicated among others Rebekah Brooks and another editor Andy Coulson.

The usual suspects

If the News of the World was killed off, the list of suspects is a long one.

[1] The dynastic founder Rupert Murdoch. Rupert founded News Corp, the global media corporation. A simple view of business leadership would place him as the tycoon at the top of a pyramid with ultimate control over every big decision. His direct influence on political leaders is well-recorded. His capacity to act decisively to innovate and change, and confront potential threats is the stuff of legends. A fall-back plan which would create a new paper is rumoured.

[2] James Murdoch. James, son of Rupert is ascending to his dynastic destiny, and has recently been appointed Chairman of News International, one of News Corps major divisions. Currently embroiled in another battle which would see Sky taken over by News Corp.

[3] Rebekah Brooks currently cast as one of the villains of the piece, for her public escape from blame, and for the endorsements from her Chairman James. But it is the even more evident positive light in which she is held by Rupert which is commonly reported as providing her with job security. Rebekah is a larger-than-life celebrity figure who seems to have collected a lot of enemies as she had progressed in the Murdoch Empire

[4] The Guardian and its editor Alan Rusbridger for campaigning until the story of the NOTW’s assorted practices went viral. Rebekah Brooks is reported to have tearfully told the NOTW staff to ‘blame the Guardian’ for the paper’s demise.

[5] Twitter, Face Book and the Blogosphere
The story trended on Twitter and there will be those who will claim the ‘victory’ for the power of social media damaging the powerful in ways that were not possible a few years ago.

[6] The advertisers who announced plans to withdraw support from the NOTW

Distributed Leadership?

We should not look too hard for a prime suspect in this case. There is no single ‘cause’. Nor is it clear whether there was a single leader of a cabal to bring down the paper. The notion of distributed leadership seems worth considering.

Update

The Mail, in its own inimitable style recounts the 168 year old history of the News of the World.


BBC as ‘Orwellian Threat’ – James Murdoch

August 30, 2009

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James Murdoch concluded his presentation at the Edinburgh TV festival with the words: ‘The only reliable, durable, and perpetual guarantee of independence is profit.’ He presents BBC as an Orwellian threat to independent journalism

This weekend [Aug 28th 2009], hearing of the speech I did the decent journalistic thing and looked it up in the News Corp press release. All my attempts to cut and paste elements from the text were defeated. It may be as a result of my technological incompetence. Or it may be part of News Corps enthusiasm for pay to view, even for the content of press releases.
Whatever.

So I keyed-in the punch-line all by myself, and turned to the BBC, one of the prime targets in the speech for more information.

What follows has been cut and pasted from the report by the BBC

News Corporation’s James Murdoch has said that a “dominant” BBC threatens independent journalism in the UK.
The chairman of the media giant in Europe, which owns the Times and Sun, also blamed the UK government for regulating the media “with relish”

Organisations like the BBC, funded by the licence fee, as well as Channel 4 and Ofcom, made it harder for other broadcasters to survive, he argued.

“The BBC is dominant … “Other organisations might rise and fall but the BBC’s income is guaranteed and growing.”

Sir Michael Lyons, chairman of the BBC Trust, told the BBC’s World Tonight that Mr Murdoch had underplayed the importance of Sky as a competitor.
“Sky continues to grow and get stronger and stronger all the time so this is not quite a set of minnows and a great big BBC ..[noting that declining advertising revenues in the recession, rather than the corporation, were to blame for the problems facing the commercial media] That is nothing to do with the BBC, that is just to with what’s happening”

News Corporation owns the Times, the Sunday Times and Sun newspapers and pay TV provider BSkyB in the UK and the New York Post and Wall Street Journal in the US. Rupert Murdoch addressed the same festival 20 years ago, and was also critical of the UK’s media policy.

A bit more history

This week, with the death of Teddy Kennedy, I was reminded of the dynastic ambitions of Joe Kennedy for his sons .

There are some parallels between Joe and Rupert in that respect. Both were self-made tycoons. Both were considered single-minded and determined to overcome all obstacles between them and their goals, whatever it took.

LWD has been following the developing story of News Corp and the Murdoch dynasty for leadership lessons which they might offer.

Earlier this month [August 8th 2009] we reported the news that News Corp is intent on creating a new business model which will attempt to charge for on-line content. This is not a new idea, but will require the mix of entrepreneurialism and risk required for radical change.

Earlier posts suggested that son James shared the highly competitive characteristics of his father, although he was not necessarily the first choice as dynastic heir.

He has shown his combativeness in dealings with Richard Branson, another highly successful entrepreneur, but one who tends to blend his own competitiveness with a more cuddly public image than do the Murdoch clan.

However independent, James was sticking pretty close to the corporate line in Endinburgh.

The BBC is like the NHS

Taking on Richard Branson might be called a touch challenge. Taking on the BBC might be considered even tougher. It’s rather like taking on the NHS. A point not lost on Will Hutton who argued in the Guardian

Perhaps one of the most self-serving parts of his speech was when he accused the BBC of being Orwellian. But the BBC is not an arm of the Orwellian state; it is a public corporation committed to fairness and objectivity which is understood worldwide. It would never, like Fox News, a part of the Murdoch empire, broadcast rank half-truths about the NHS under the guise of being balanced and objective – and if challenged argue that it is part of a diverse, plural conversation.