London, Jul 15: As members of the House of Lords heaped calumnies, media baron Rupert Murdoch and his family went into damage control mode, promising to apologise to the nation for using dubious news-gathering practices and showed the door to News International CEO Rebekah Brooks.
The ferocity of public criticism over phone-hacking threatened to hit Murdoch's media empire beyond Britain, with US and Australia opening inquiries and the powerful media company taking serious knocks on the stock exchange.
John Prescott, former deputy prime minister and senior Labour leader, led other Lords in turning the screws further by launching a tirade against the alleged unethical and illegal practices of Murdoch not only in Britain, but also in China and elsewhere.
He quoted strong statements by Chris Patten, the last governor general of Hong Kong, when his book deal with a Murdoch-owned publishing company was scrapped over fears that it may damage Murdoch's commercial interests in China.
Prescott said News International was in danger of becoming ‘Crime International', due to the alleged illegal practices to secure information for use in sensational stories in the now closed News of the World tabloid.
Prescott, one of the few politicians who have been campaigning on phone hacking for a long time, said that there had been a “conspiracy of silence” to protect the Murdoch empire for ages, involving the police, the media and the Press Complaints Commission.
Focussing his ire on Rupert Murdoch, he said the media baron was “the spider in the middle of this web”, he said. “If we do not deal with him, he will just go back to the same old practices,” Prescott said. It was important to ensure that there was no return to “business as usual”, Prescott said.
Prime Minister David Cameron and Labour leader Ed Miliband welcomed Brooks' resignation, while others remarked that it should have happened earlier than today. Michelle Stanistreet, general secretary of the National Union of Journalists, said: “This is too little too late. We all know she has worked hand-in-glove with James Murdoch and they are equally culpable in terms of the cover-up”.
“This will be cold comfort to hundreds of journalists who have lost their jobs at the News of the World”. James Murdoch, son of Rupert Murdoch, today listed the measures the company is taking to deal with the issue, including tendering an apology.
The apology will be published in an advertisement in all national newspapers.
He wrote in an email to staff of the News International, which owns four newspaper titles in the UK: “This weekend, News International will run advertisements in all national newspapers”.
“We will apologise to the nation for what has happened. We will follow this up in the future with communications about the actions we have taken to address the wrongdoing that occurred”.
Earlier, Rebekah Brooks, chief executive of News International under whose editorship of News of the World murdered teenager Milly Dowler's phone had been hacked, apologised and resigned from the post. Murdoch named Tom Mockridge, CEO of Sky Italia TV channel, as the next chief executive of News International.
Brooks said in her resignation letter: “As Chief Executive of the company, I feel a deep sense of responsibility for the people we have hurt and I want to reiterate how sorry I am for what we now know to have taken place”.
She added: “I have believed that the right and responsible action has been to lead us through the heat of the crisis. However my desire to remain on the bridge has made me a focal point of the debate”.
According to James Murdoch, the company has now formed an “independent management and standards committee”, which will have direct governance and oversight from News Corporation board members.
He wrote: “We made the difficult and necessary decision to close the News of the World. A number of other executives have now left the company. News Corporation also withdrew its proposal to acquire the shares in BSkyB it does not own. This is a strong signal that our top priority in the UK is to address the issues facing News International”.
Murdoch added: “Next week, my father and I will appear before the CMS (culture, media and sport) select committee and will speak to them directly about our determination to put things right.
“The company has made mistakes. It is not only receiving appropriate scrutiny, but is also responding to unfair attacks by setting the record straight,” he said. PTI