Anyone with even a passing interest in the relationship between politician and newspaper publishers has knows for many months that it was only a matter of time before the inept cover up of the illegal practices carried on by, or on behalf of, the News of the World would unravel. So it has proven this week as the public, politicians and advertisers have expressed their disgust at the “hacking” of the mobile phones of a murder victim, the families of terrorist victims, and of soldiers killed in Afghanistan and Iraq.

The fact too that the News of The World paid Police officers for sensitive information can also hardly be a surprise. After all former editors Andy Coulson and Rebekah Brooks (nee Wade) admitted as much to the Press Complaints Commission and to a Committee of MPs a long time ago. Coulson said that the payments were “within the law” but leaving aside such “minor” matters as the Data Protection Act and anti Money Laundering laws, there has been a law in England and Wales for over 100 years making it a criminal offence to pay a Police Officer for information or services and indeed for an officer to accept any such payment. Why did no-one take action when these admissions were made?

Well possibly because everyone knows that this has been going on and not just in the Metropolitan Police. The fact is that virtually every local, regional or national journalist gets information from police contacts on a regular basis. These might be on a “quid pro quo” basis or for the price of a drink – but when you see, as I did recently on a fictional TV cop drama, a detective commenting that he wasn’t surprised that the local press had information that should only be known to the Police as everyone knew that £50 would buy you all the info you needed.

Anyway, I’m not going to spend more time on this aspect of the sorry affair apart from saying that no-one should be naïve enough to think that the News of the World is the only newspaper to have acted in this way.

The fact is that Rupert and James Murdoch are not stupid. Neither are Rebekah Brooks/Wade and Andy Coulson. Indeed there are many others high up in the News International corporate structure who are also far from stupid, so it is hard to accept that they didn’t know what was going on – and even if they didn’t know they should have known. Admiral Lord Nelson may have been a hero for turning his blind eye and saying “I see no ships” but that isn’t acceptable in modern corporate governance terms.

The recently introduced Bribery Act – which came into effect on the 1st of this month – holds directors legally liable for illegal payments made on behalf of their company even if they have not authorised it or even if they know nothing about it. Their defence is to have a policy in place which is explained to all their staff, subcontractors and suppliers, and which can be monitored.

The Bribery Act has been a long time in the making and an even longer time in being implemented, but for many months everyone has known that it was coming into full effect on 1st July 2011. (I’ve written about it often enough myself – see below.) That together with the rapid unravelling of the cover up must have been enough to exercise the minds of Murdoch (Per et Fils) not to mention their professional advisors.

Then there is a third consideration to add to the mix. Frankly running a newspaper for 6 days of the week (Monday to Saturday) and another for Sunday is needlessly expensive. There cannot be a newspaper publisher who doesn’t dream of being able to merge the two operations into one and save on staff costs and overheads. There is indeed evidence that Murdoch has been looking to merge the News of the World and the Sun for some time.

The problem for publishers is that the trade unions have long resisted the mergers of two distinct titles. Remember the News of the World was a stand-alone Sunday which Rupert Murdoch bought long before he bought the “weekday” Sun.

Now Murdoch has never been afraid of taking on the print unions and indeed he was largely responsible for breaking the power of the print unions, and their outmoded working practices, and taking “Fleet Street” east to Wapping and beyond. However, what has proven much more difficult for him to deal with are the employment laws. He might have been able to work with Mrs Thatcher in breaking the power of the unions to strike at will, but he wasn’t able to stop her from introducing and strengthening laws to protect the rights of law abiding workers. You simply cannot sack them at will or make them redundant without going through proper procedures. Neither should you.

Of course, if a business or company closes down unexpectedly, such as going bankrupt, then there isn’t much that the employer can do by way of consultation and if they can’t pay the legal minimum redundancy then the taxpayer picks up the bill. But the News of the World was far from being bankrupt. Indeed, it was probably the most profitable newspaper in Britain and so if News International wanted to merge it with the Sun to save costs and reduce staff then it would have to have gone through a fairly lengthy consultation process to identify staff to be made redundant, to help them find new jobs by paying for retraining or employing HR experts to help them. A costly exercise.

But what if the News of the World had to close unexpectedly? What if its advertisers deserted it? What if the public decided to punish it by not buying it? Could the News of the World survive? Wouldn’t it be better to close it down and have done with it? And if that saved you a lot of time and money, so much the better. Or am I just being a cynic when I ask whether or not what we are now seeing is simply the disaster plan of Rupert and James Murdoch?

Related Articles


No comments yet.

Leave a Reply