Could directors of News Corporation face charges related to the phone hacking that, try as they and their CEO Rupert Murdoch seek to put a bold face on it, has muddied the company’s reputation?
The Guardian reports that the company’s directors could face corporate charges and prosecution for neglect of their duties, according to plans being considered by the Crown Prosecution Service.
Murdoch has only recently stepped down from his directorships for News Corp.’s UK newspapers. His son, James Murdoch, resigned from the board of News International last year, after sitting on it since 2008. Les Hinton, former chief executive of NI and of the Wall Street Journal, is the only other senior Murdoch executive who was on the NI board of directors while the hacking scandal took place. Hinton formally left the UK board in 2007.
Only former NI CEO Rebekah Brooks has been criminally charged in the hacking scandal; she was on the NI board starting in 2009 and resigned last year. She has so far denied allegations of an attempted cover-up of the hacking scandal and of any involvement in hacking.
Not surprisingly, News Corp.’s lawyers are protesting the possible charges, on the grounds that such would be a “dramatic escalation of the hacking scandal by criminalising the boards on which Murdoch family members sit.” Deputy Assistant Commissioner Sue Akers, who is leading the police investigation into the hacking scandal, acknowledged that, since the news of the hacking scandal broke out in July of 2011, “the current senior management and corporate approach at News International has been to assist and come clean,” in the words of a spokesman for NI.
But as the Guardian notes, News Corp. is hardly in the clear:
One problem for News International…is the wording of section 79 of the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act, the hacking legislation under which eight senior News of the World journalists and executives have already been charged. It provides for the corporate prosecution of a company which commits such an offence, and also of any director whose neglect or connivance led to the crime.
A criminal prosecution, and indeed the specter of it, could cause significant problems for News Corp., should British regulatory agency Ofcom decided the company’s representatives are not “fit and proper” to hold UK broadcasting licences.
Two other bits of bad news for News Corp. and Murdoch: The Daily, the tablet-based newspaper whose innovative format was greatly trumpeted by Murdoch, has cut 29 percent of its staff or 50 full-time staffers. On Tuesday, a 37-year-old reporter for NI-owned The Sun was arrested as part of an investigation about alleged data gathering from stolen cell phones. Scotland Yard said that he is the ninth person arrested as part of Operation Tuleta, the police’s investigation into phone hacking.
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