Tag Archives: News Corporation

Evidence states Murdoch knew about bribery of officials – so why isn’t he in the dock?

Inscrutable: But does this impassive visage mask knowledge about corruption in newspaper journalism going back at least 40 years?

Inscrutable: But does this impassive visage mask knowledge about corruption in newspaper journalism going back at least 40 years?

Rupert Murdoch has known for decades that his newspaper reporters were bribing public officials, according to an audio recording reported on the Exaro News website.

It seems the media mogul made the comments in March, in a private meeting with a group of journalists from The Sun who had been arrested over allegations of illegal news-gathering – including payments to police and other public officials for information.

In the recording, a Sun journalist asks: “I’m pretty confident that the working practices that I’ve seen here are ones that I’ve inherited, rather than instigated. Would you recognise that all this pre-dates many of our involvement here?”

Murdoch replies: “We’re talking about payments for news tips from cops; that’s been going on a hundred years, absolutely. You didn’t instigate it.”

At another time, he says: “It was the culture of Fleet Street.”

The full story, and a transcript of the recording, are on the Exaro News site, but the revelation raises serious questions about the phone-tapping trial of Andy Coulson, Rebekah Brooks and others, which is currently taking place.

If Brooks and Coulson are on trial for allowing corrupt and illegal practices in their newspapers, why not Murdoch?

And what are the implications for David Cameron, the Prime Minister who may have allowed this kind of corruption into Downing Street?

Lobbying Bill rethink – another Tory ‘bait-and-switch’?

Listening on lobbying: Andrew Lansley proved exactly how trustworthy he is with the Health and Social Care Act 2012. Now he stands ready to hear concerns over the Lobbying and Transparency Bill.

Listening on lobbying: Andrew Lansley proved exactly how trustworthy he is with the Health and Social Care Act 2012. Now he stands ready to hear concerns over the Lobbying and Transparency Bill.

It seems we have all been victims of a Parliamentary stitch-up.

Everyone who was getting hot under the collar last week, because the Transparency of Lobbying, non-Party Campaigning, and Trade Union Administration Bill seemed to be attacking the fair and proper work of charities and other organisations, probably breathed a sigh of relief when the government announced it would scrap plans to change the way campaign spending is defined.

The Bill would have restricted any charitable campaigning which “enhances the standing of parties or candidates”, in the full year before an election, to £390,000. That’s a 70 per cent cut – plus it would now include staff costs.

The BBC reported that Andrew Lansley has tabled a series of amendments, including one reverting to the wording set out in existing legislation, defining controlled expenditure as any “which can reasonably be regarded as intended to promote or procure electoral success”.

What the BBC does not say, but is clarified in the government press release, is that “the Bill will still bring down the national spending limit for third parties, introduce constituency spending limits and extend the definition of controlled expenditure to cover more than just election material, to include rallies, transport and press conferences“.

In other words, this is a very minor change. Spending is still restricted during election years (and almost every year is an election year); the work of trade unions will be savaged – in a country that already has the most savage anti-union laws in Europe; and all organisations will still have to watch what they say about anything which might be considered an election issue.

Want to campaign to protect the NHS, introduce fair taxation, fight poverty, improve public health or education, reform the financial sector or civil liberties, or fight the privatisation agenda? Then your budget will be scrutinised and you may not go over. And don’t forget there will be limits on spending within constituencies.

This still means that smaller organisations will enjoy greater influence than larger ones and – perhaps most telling of all – it does not clarify the position with regard to the corporate media. Will the mainstream press be curtailed? Rupert Murdoch’s News Corp UK and the Daily Mail Group spend far more than £390,000 every day, and on material that absolutely is “intended to promote or procure electoral success” – for the Conservative Party. Does anybody seriously believe the Tories will enforce action against their supporters?

One tangential element that this does clarify is the BBC’s political stance. Its story makes no mention of the more-than-100 other amendments that have been proposed for the Bill – possibly because they were put forward by MPs who aren’t in the government. Nor does it mention any of the technicalities that water down yesterday’s announcement. Instead, the BBC presents it as a victory for charities, who are getting everything they want. They aren’t.

It’s another Tory ‘bait-and-switch’ trick.

Doubly so, in fact, because this little circus has diverted attention away from the other aspects of the Bill – its clampdown on trade unions and the fact that it does almost nothing to address lobbying, which was supposed to be its reason for existing in the first place!

Joint co-operation between various trade unions will be made more difficult – to such an extent that the Trade Union Congress will effectively be banned in election years (meaning almost every year).

All unions with more than 10,000 members will have to submit an annual ‘Membership Audit Certificate’ to the Certification Officer in addition to the annual return which they already make. The Certification Officer will have the power to require production of ‘relevant’ documents, including membership records and even private correspondence. What is the rationale for these draconian provisions when not a single complaint has been made to the Certification Officer about these matters?

Is the real motive behind this section of the bill to help employers mount injunction proceedings when union members have voted for industrial action, by seizing on minor if not minuscule flaws which the Court of Appeal would previously have considered ‘de minimis’ or ‘accidental’? Isn’t this about inserting yet further minute technical or bureaucratic obstacles or hurdles in the path of trade unions carrying out their perfectly proper and legitimate activities?

And what about the potentional for ‘blacklisting’? If union membership records are to be made publicly available, as seems the case, then it will be possible for businesses to single out job applicants who are union members and refuse them work.

And then we come to the matter of lobbying itself.

This Bill still does not do what it is supposed to do. A register of consultant lobbyists is not adequate to the task and would not have prevented any of the major lobbying scandals in which David Cameron has been embroiled.

Practically all forms of lobbying, including direct donations to political parties by corporate and private interests, will remain totally unaffected by the legislation and corporations could sidestep it easily, simply by bringing their lobbying operations “in house”.

No less than 80 per cent of lobbying activity will not be covered by the bill – and it must be amended to cover this percentage. The only lobbyists that will be affected are registered lobbying agencies, who will presumably suffer large losses as their clients leave. Perhaps the real aim of this part of the bill is to stop lobbying from organisations that don’t have enough money to make it worth the government’s while?

How does this bill prevent wealthy individuals and corporations from buying political influence through party political donations – direct donations to MPs who then coincidentally vote in ways beneficial to their donors – or directly to political parties, such as David Cameron’s “The Leaders Group”?

How will it stop paid lobbyists like David Cameron’s election adviser Lynton Crosby from having influential roles in politics?

How will it stop people with significant lobbying interests, like George Osborne’s father-in-law David Howell, being appointed as advisers and ministers in areas where they have blatant conflicts of interests with their lobbying activities?

How will it increase transparency when it comes to which organisations have been lobbying which politicians on particular issues?

It won’t.

Nor will it stop lobbyists targeting ministers’ political advisers (SPADs), as was witnessed in the Jeremy Hunt Sky TV affair.

Or prevent corporate interests being invited to actually write government legislation on their behalf – for example the ‘big four’ accountancy firms, who run many tax avoidance schemes, actually write UK law on tax avoidance.

An adequate register would cover all of the above, including details of all non-Parliamentary representatives seeking to influence members of the government, how much they paid for the privilege, and what they expected to get for their money.

Then we will have transparency.

Farage meets Murdoch; Leveson has achieved nothing

Why is HE looking so happy? Could it be that Nigel Farage's meeting with Rupert Murdoch signifies support for UKIP from News Corporation? If so, would it really be in the public interest, or in that of the individuals concerned?

Why is HE looking so happy? Could it be that Nigel Farage’s meeting with Rupert Murdoch signifies support for UKIP from News Corporation? If so, would it really be in the public interest, or in that of the individuals concerned?

Was the Leveson Inquiry into media standards just an incredibly lengthy distraction from the ravages being wrought on the British system of government by the Coalition? In the light of current evidence, it seems so.

The inquiry found, and I quote from the executive summary, “the political parties of UK national Government and of UK official Opposition, have had or developed too close a relationship with the press in a way which has not been in the public interest. In part, this has simply been a matter of spending a disproportionate amount of time, attention and resource on this relationship in comparison to, and at the expense of, other legitimate claims in relation to the conduct of public affairs.”

We know that the Coalition government has resisted efforts to put Lord Justice Leveson’s recommendations into practice.

Now we see that UKIP leader Nigel Farage is courting Rupert Murdoch, the long-time boss of News Corporation, which owns many British newspapers and a huge stake in BSkyB satellite broadcasting. Murdoch was cast as one of the principal villains in the inquiry, as staff at his newspapers were responsible for hacking the phones of celebrities and other people in the news – most notably the family of Milly Dowler – thereby hindering police investigations.

“Too close a relationship with the press in a way which has not been in the public interest”. Although UKIP came second in the Eastleigh by-election, that party is in no position to call itself an official Opposition, but the BBC report saying Murdoch is “interested” to find out more about it is disturbing.

Even more disturbing is the fact that Farage would not comment on what was discussed during the meeting.

From Leveson, again: “The evidence suggests that politicians have conducted themselves in relation to the press in ways which have not served the public interest. They have placed themselves in positions in which they risked becoming vulnerable to influences which are neither known about nor transparent.”

The Daily Telegraph seems to think Mr Farage discussed the possibility of an electoral pact with the Conservatives if David Cameron stood down as leader. If that is true, then he was seeking an assurance of support from Murdoch, whose newspapers can do much to sway public opinion – often in spite of the facts.

Would this serve the public interest? No.

If Murdoch wished to influence Farage on such matters, would we be allowed to know about it? No. Would it be transparent? No, because that would show that the press was manipulating politicians, a situation strongly opposed – not only by Leveson but by the general public.

So the details of the meeting are kept from us. Never mind.

The fact that it took place at all is damning enough.

Still, we can thank Farage and Murdoch for several things.

First, the Leveson Inquiry into the culture, practices and ethics of the press was lengthy, expensive and pointless. Nothing has changed.

Second, the press – the Murdoch press, at the very least – is still keen to influence British politics for its own purposes.

Third, politicians – as represented here by Nigel Farage – are equally keen to be influenced and corrupted by the press, if it will help them gain power.

Do not trust the Murdoch press.

Do not trust Farage or UKIP.

Do not trust any UK administration that does not, at the very least, follow the Leveson recommendations.

Hapless Jeremy proves yet again what a… Hunt he is

Not the right kind of tree-hugger: This is an artist’s impression of what Jeremy Hunt looked like, hiding behind a tree to avoid being seen going to a meeting with Rupert Murdoch.

It is not a good time to be Jeremy Hunt.

“When is?” I hear you cry. Fair point. The reactions of the Queen and the Duke of Edinburgh certainly seem to have put the Health Secretary in a state.

He was at a smart Buckingham Palace event, arranged to thank everyone involved in the Diamond Jubilee celebrations, which took place while he was Culture Secretary. He decided this was the moment to put his greatest talent on display.

Clearly, it wasn’t his wit. No, I refer to his talent for making a faux pas – or, in English, a bloody fool of himself.

“I read about a Japanese tourist who said afterwards how wonderful our Queen must be to take part in that, as they would never get their emperor to jump out of the plane,” he told Her Majesty. Faced with an irrelevant comment about a completely different event, she paused, smiled politely, shrugged, and moved on.

Then the Duke of Edinburgh turned up. You may remember he had quite a rough time during the Diamond Jubilee, contracting an infection that hospitalised him for several days. As a result, he probably saw most of it on TV but – clearly – the then-Culture Secretary hadn’t made the slightest impression on him as the first thing he said was, “Who are you?”

Hunt managed to spit out some information about his current job, and that he was Culture Secretary during the Diamond Jubilee and the Olympics, only to have the Duke respond: “Well they do move you people on a lot.”

We are led to believe Mr Hunt was embarrassed by the whole episode. What makes it worse is that he might have gained a bit more recognition if he had mentioned some of the other public disasters in which he has been involved.

Ask not for whom the bell tolls: Mr Hunt’s bell-end landed in a passing lady’s lap. Oh dear.

Perhaps he should have said, “I’m the fool who went ringing a bell to announce the start of the Olympics, only to have the end fall off and hit a passing lady in the lap”?

Or: “I’m the twit who arrived at a meeting with Rupert Murdoch – a gentleman with whom I have long-standing ties, even though he’s being investigated by an official inquiry ordered by my government – but, finding a multitude of press photographers there and not wanting to be seen publicly with the head of NewsCorp… hid behind a tree. One that was too narrow to stop them from spotting me.”

At least he had the good taste not to mention the moment when James Naughtie mispronounced his surname, live on national radio. The use of the C-word would have been beyond the pale.

(Although, it might have won him the recognition he wanted from the Duke).

Perhaps David Cameron would have been better off introducing into his Cabinet some faces that were more recognisable?

Cabinet reshuffle: Does Cameron think he’s the Joker?

Today’s blog entry will be relatively short. I had an operation on my leg yesterday (September 4) and it seems to be affecting my ability to think.

… And if you think that’s bizarre and illogical, let’s have a look at the decisions made by David Cameron in yesterday’s Cabinet reshuffle!

Firstly, the really shocking news: George Osborne is remaining as Chancellor of the Exchequer. Not really news, I know, but at the outset it makes a mockery of a process that is supposed to be about improving the government of the UK. Osborne’s policies are a disaster; he has sent British industry nosediving while increasing borrowing by £9.3 billion in the last four months. He was booed when he got up to give out medals at the Paralympics and he was booed at Prime Minister’s Questions today. But he remains in the Number Two government job.

Also remaining in post are Home Secretary Theresa May and Foreign Secretary William Hague; Education Secretary Michael Gove surprisingly keeps his brief, despite having proved by his activities that he is not up to the intellectual challenge (see previous Vox articles).

And Iain Duncan Smith will remain at Work and Pensions – oh yes he will! – despite having been offered Justice by David Cameron. This shows the weakness of the Prime Minister. As LabourList’s Mark Ferguson put it: “Cameron tried to move IDS. IDS said no. Cameron said ‘ah…um…ok’. Weak, weak, weak.”

Fellow Tweeter Carl Maxim added: “Iain Duncan Smith was offered a job at Justice but refused to take it. Therefore his benefits should be cut.”

And a fellow called ‘Woodo’ tweeted: “Gove and Duncan-Smith to stay in roles to ‘get the job done’. ‘The job’ being making educating poor kids harder and killing off the disabled.”

Biggest winner in the reshuffle has to be former Culture moron – I mean secretary – Jeremy Hunt, who has been moved up to take the Health brief. This has been seen as a reward for his work on the phone hacking controversy that led to the departure of former News of the World editor Andy Coulson from the Downing Street press office, and to the Leveson Inquiry into the behaviour of the media.

This seems a nonsensical move. Leveson has ordered not only Cameron, but Cameron’s friends Coulson, Rebekah Brooks (who now faces criminal charges for her part in phone hacking), and Hunt himself to give evidence in hearings that were highly embarrassing for those under scrutiny.

Hunt’s own close connections with Rupert Murdoch, whose News Corporation owns the papers that were mainly responsible for the crimes, is well-documented, and led to this tweet from James Lyons: “BREAKING – Rupert Murdoch to buy the NHS.”

This may not be far from the truth. Hunt co-authored a book dealing with the NHS at length, with Daniel Hannon MEP who called the NHS a 60 year mistake. The book states: “Our ambition should be to break down the barriers between private and public provision, in effect denationalising the provision of health care in Britain“.

He reportedly tried to remove the NHS tribute from the Olympic Games opening ceremony and his record in government is as dodgy: he voted to halve the time allowed for an abortion from 24 weeks to 12. His support of homeopathy has also attracted ridicule from some quarters.

Hunt’s arrival at Health follows the ejection of Andrew Lansley, the man who worked for eight long years on his Health and Social Care Bill, that effectively privatised health care in England. This work constituted the biggest lie this government ever sold to the public – that the Conservatives would safeguard the well-loved 64-year-old national institution. His reward? Demotion to become Leader of the House of Commons.

Former employment minister Chris Grayling, a man who believes bed and breakfast owners should be allowed to ban gay couples, has been promoted to the Justice brief. In response, one tweeter asked if Cameron will be building more prisons.

This means the oldest Cabinet member, Kenneth Clarke, has been ejected from Justice. David Cameron reportedly tried to sack him outright, along with departing Conservative co-chair Baroness Warsi, but ended up compounding his weakness by creating new roles for them instead. Clarke will be a minister without portfolio (although it is believed he’ll be sticking his oar into Osborne’s business at the Treasury), and Warsi will be minister for faith and communities.

Nick Parry tweeted: “Now ‘Baroness’ Warsi really knows what it’s like to be Northern and working-class – she’s been made redundant by the Tories.”

And Rory Macqueen asked: “Who has replaced Warsi in the <issue off-the-shelf statement about “Labour’s union baron paymasters”> role? It looks really challenging.”

That would be tireless self-promoter and foot-in-mouth artist Grant Shapps.

Scraping the bottom of the barrel… The new Transport secretary, Patrick McLoughlin, is afraid of flying.

And the former minister for the disabled, Maria ‘Killer’ Miller, is the new Equalities minister. She’ll be victimising women, gays and ethnic minorities as well, from now on. If you think that’s harsh, bear in mind that she voted for a (heavily defeated) proposal to stop abortion providers like Marie Stopes counselling women, and is on record as being in favour of defining homophobia, racial hatred and prejudice as ‘freedom of speech’.

Beyond that, we’re into comedy territory. For example, Mid Wales Labour member Ryan Myles said: “Apparently David Cameron was planning on moving Eric Pickles but couldn’t afford the crane.”

All in all, it’s been a wholesale replacement of anybody with talent, by idiots. The tweeter who identifies himself with Yes Minister lead character Rt Hon Jim Hacker MP summed it up perfectly: “Expected a night of the long knives, may just be a morning of insignificant pricks!