Thursday, July 14, 2011

You Don't Know How To Play The Game, You Cheat And You Lie, You Make Me Want To Cry.

So, as a direct result of Hackgate, the BSkyB deal is now dead. As dead as ... a very dead thing. With dead knobs on it. The expectation is that Rupert Murdoch won't be able to come back and bid for one hundred per cent of the satellite broadcaster for several years, if at all. And, lo, there was a schadenfreudegasm abroad in all the land. And it was fine. In fact this feels a little like the end of Return of the Jedi. Only, without the dancing Ewoks, obviously. The billions of wonga squatting in the bowels of News Corp's balance sheet will most likely now be spent abroad, and the summer of 2011 may well turn out to be the high water mark of Murdoch's influence over the British media. His advisers were quick to indicate that the media mogul's company would now seek other commercial opportunities – 'we're likely to deploy our capital elsewhere' - one 'source' allegedly told the Gruniad in a statement not a million miles away from 'we taking our ball and going home.' For, while the media giant may not be the most transparent group to outsiders it is all too aware that it is now so unpopular that expansion in Britain can no longer be on the agenda.

Still, it's not all bad for Rupert. The disgraced peer and former press baron Conrad Black has offered a defence of Murdoch in a piece for the Financial Times, in which he describes the media mogul as 'a great bad man.' Black, former editor of the Torygraph newspapers, who goes back to minimum security in September of this year for another thirteen month stretch for mail fraud and obstruction of justice, blames 'the cowardice of Britain's political establishment' for the current scandal which, he argues, was hardly naive as to the nature of Murdoch's empire. 'It would be astonishing,' writes the convicted felon, 'if some News International employees had not engaged in crime,' (much as black himself did), 'revelling in the climate of immunity that has been the group's modus operandi for decades. Successive UK governments of both major parties supinely truckled to him. The more vituperatively his titles slagged off the royal family, the more certain were their books to be excerpted in the Sunday Times.' Although his personality is generally quite agreeable,' Black adds, 'Murdoch has no loyalty to anyone or anything except his company. He has difficulty keeping friendships; rarely keeps his word for long; is an exploiter of the discomfort of others; and has betrayed every political leader who ever helped him in any country, except Ronald Reagan and perhaps Tony Blair. There must be a reckoning with decades of establishment cowardice towards someone whose nature has been well known throughout that time. The fault is the British establishment's and it must not be seduced and intimidated, so profoundly and durably, again.' With friends like that, Rupert, who needs enemies?

Meanwhile, in the Commons Gordon Brown launched a ferocious attack on News International, accusing it of 'law breaking on an industrial scale.' The former prime minister told MPs that the publisher had been part of 'a criminal-media nexus' and that many innocent people had suffered from stories written by its newspapers. He was speaking after parent firm News Corporation dropped its bid for BSkyB. News International has denied stories about Brown which it ran in the period whilst he was chancellor and prime minister were sourced illegally. The former prime minister mounted the fierce attack during a debate in Parliament - the first major one in which he has spoken in since he left power last year. He defended his government's relationship with News International, saying that he had 'stood up for the public interest' in his dealings with the Murdoch-owned press and had not struck any private deals. Brown, who was prime minister when the Murdoch press transferred its allegiance from Labour back to their old pals the Conservatives, said that his relationship with the publisher was never 'cosy nor comfortable.' Brown said that he was shocked by what he learned about the conduct of titles owned by the newspaper firm when he became prime minister in 2007. He claimed the firm - whose recently closed paper the News of the World is at the centre of a police inquiry into phone hacking - had 'descended from the gutter to the sewers. Those at News International who took the freedom of the press as a licence for abuse, who then cynically manipulated our support of that vital freedom as their justification and then callously used the defence of the free press as the banner under which they marched in step, I say, with members of the criminal underworld. And it was this nexus, claiming to be on the side of the law-abiding citizen, but in fact standing side by side with criminals against our citizens.' Police are investigating claims that the murdered schoolgirl Milly Dowler, the family of the murdered girls in Soham, the families of some of those killed in the 7/7 London bombings and bereaved relatives of service personnel killed in Iraq and Afghanistan are among those whose phones were hacked into. Brown said that the 'private lives, private losses and private sorrows' of many 'wholly innocent' men, women and children had been 'treated as public property' by News International. 'Their private and inner-most feelings and their private tears bought and sold by News International for commercial gain,' he said. The former prime minister also claimed that he was stopped from launching an inquiry into alleged phone hacking by the Cabinet Secretary Sir Gus O'Donnell, reading out the advice which he was given to MPs. He concluded by calling for a shake-up of media ownership rules to secure a 'fairer distribution of media power in this country.' Labour MPs applauded Brown after he completed his speech. However, some Tory MPs jeered and several tried to intervene during his speech to question why he had not done more to combat press power during his time in office. For the government, Deputy Commons leader David Heath said that Brown had provided 'serious evidence' of wrongdoing and he hoped it would be investigated by the public inquiry. The Commons proceeded with the debate about News Corporation's bid for broadcaster BSkyB despite News Corp's decision earlier on Wednesday to withdraw it. Both the Sun and the Sunday Times have refuted specific allegations made in the media (although not, specifically by Brown himself) concerning the methods they used to obtain stories about Brown and his family. The Sunday Times has rejected claims that it used criminals to gain access to his personal details by a process known as 'blagging.' The Sun said a story which it ran about Brown's baby son having cystic fibrosis had been sourced legitimately. Later than expected, the Murdoch debate has started with Ed Milimolimandi beginning the debate for Labour. Brown's father was a Church of Scotland minister, the man who gave him the much-mocked moral compass which guided him during his ill-fated premiership. He made no mention of his faith or his background in his speech, but there was no need. The sense of righteous fury - of incandescent indignation - that Brown projected, and his denunciation of New International's sins, made clear where on the moral and spiritual scale he located himself and his newly-declared enemies. He started by saying that it was unusual for a Commons motion to achieve its aim before it was even debated, with brought a chorus of laughter from all sides. News Corporation's decision to withdraw its bid for BSkyB was a victory for the people, he said. Rupert Murdoch was bending before the will of the people. It was also 'a victory for parliament. This House has been criticised in recent years for being timid, irrelevant and out of touch. Today parliament has shown an ability to speak without fear or favour, to speak to our great traditions, to show that we can hold power to account and that nobody is above the law.' Miliband paid tribute to Tom Watson and Chris Bryant for their long-term campaigning on this issue. It might've been nice if he'd mentioned the Gruniad as well, but he didn't. He also praised the Speaker for taking the issue seriously, as when he allowed an emergency debate of the subject last week despite government objections. Some non-entity of a Conservative MP wondered why 'it's fair to attack Cameron on Coulson, but not fair to attack Miliband on enjoying Mr Murdoch's canapés a few weeks ago.' With withering disdain, Miliband responded: 'Allow me to explain to the honourable member, who is new to this House, that this is an opportunity for the House to speak with one voice.' It was a 'cruel irony,' he said, that Rebekah Brooks has not lost her job whilst hundreds of staff at the News of the World have. Gordon Brown began his speech by saying that this reminded him of 'the old days: the opposition are in pursuit, the government is on the run, and the Sun is saying "Brown Wrong."' But there is one significant difference, he added. If he had refused to reply to a debate like this when he was prime minister, the Tories and their friends in the press would have been complaining. 'With the exception of peace and war, there is no matter of more importance than to a government than the liberty of its citizens,' he said. In thirty years as an MP, he had never sought to impose restrictions on the press. He said that he had defended the right of the press to 'speak truth to power.' Brown added that he was speaking not for himself, but to defend those 'who cannot defend themselves: the relatives of our war dead, the relatives of the 7/7 victims and the relatives of murder victims who found their private sorrows treated as the public property of News International.' The company was engaged in law-breaking 'on an industrial scale,' often with the help of criminals. This was dramatic stuff: a potent mix of preachy rhetoric and unashamed party politics, delivered in tone which suggests Brown was giving vent to a fury that had been pent up for some years. More than one media commentator noted that, if we'd had a few more performances like this when he was a shy and timid mouse of PM, he might not have lost the election. Newspaper headlines proclaiming that Brown killed my son, about the death of an Afghan soldier, show the relationship between Labour and News International was difficult, Brown argued. He accused the Tories of letting News International dictate their media policy. He listed a series of areas where the Tories were proposing policies designed to meet with Rupert Murdoch's approval, including the BBC's licence fee, BBC online, the future of sporting events on TV, the fate of the BBC's commercial arm and the role of Ofcom. All of which, he noted, could have been written by News Corp's board of directors so closely do they match New Corp's stated position. It is often thought that Brown's relationship with News International broke down only in the autumn of 2009, when the Sun said that it would be supporting the Conservatives at the forthcoming election. But Brown said that the company was angry because the government refused to do what it wanted on various media policy issues. He also read out various Sun articles attacking him long before the autumn of 2009. He attacked the civil service for refusing to approve an inquiry into phone hacking at News International before the general election which, he claims, he wanted to hold. He read out a document which appeared to show civil servants thought this was a bad idea. 'There was a media culture permissive of unlawful activities and deliberate obfuscation by News International. The [Culture, Media and Sport] select committee did not believe the practices were still continuing and thus it did not meet the test of urgent public concern. Time had elapsed and evidence may have been destroyed, the News of the World and individuals had already been punished by resignations and jail terms, there was no evidence of systematic failure in the police - and anyway all the decisions had been checked with the Crown Prosecution Service. Targeting the News of the World would have been deemed to be politically-motivated because it was too close to the general election and would inevitably have raised questions over the motivation and urgency of an inquiry.' He strongly attacked John Yates for saying in 2009 that there was no need for a new investigation into phone hacking. He called for newspapers which publish false stories to be forced to carry retractions, 'not on page thirty seven' but on page one. It was a powerful performance: 'If we do not act now, forcibly, with clarity, friends around the world will ask what kind of country we have become.' He said that he has learned, through the involvement of his family of late, that there was far more to the scandal than has come out, saying that a junior editor at News International who was heavily involved in computer hacking was then promoted rather than being sacked. The inquiry should be widened to include the use of surveillance techniques and technologies, he said. He added that police officers informed Rebekah Brooks of wrongdoing at her newspaper in 2002 and that NI did not act upon this information, and that Yates 'spent less time investigating News International than dining with News International.' He concluded: 'I can say for the record that as I left office, I warned the leader of the opposition that he could expect a Coulson problem. And I did so directly, not through an intermediary who might not tell him.' He was constantly shouted - rudely - at by Conservative MPs. One Tory demanded a point of order, then asked the Speaker if there is a time limit. Ice formed on the upper reaches of John Bercow. He said this was a 'totally bogus' point of order, and apologised to Brown, asking him to continue. A renewed bout of heckling forced the Speaker to shout 'order' several times with increasing agitation, threaten one - no doubt perfect example - of Tory maleness with expulsion from the chamber and apologise yet again. Brown called for newspapers to be forced to provide front-page apologies and accused News International of 'buying the silence' of phone-hacking victims with out-of-court pay-offs. Michael Crick the Political Editor of Newsnight tweeted: 'Brown has suddenly turned the debate highly partisan. If he carries on like this the Conservatives might think of opposing the motion!' Brown was followed by John Whittingdale, the chairman of the culture committee. The committee would meet tomorrow, he said. If Rupert Murdoch, James Murdoch and Rebekah Brooks refused to appear next week, the committee would come to the Commons to ask it 'to use the powers available to ensure witnesses attend.' In theory the Commons can, of course, issue some kind of warrant ordering witnesses to attend a select committee hearing. But in practice this power is very rarely used. And, it doesn't apply to foreign nations. 'It is not often that I expect I shall sign a motion in the name of the leader of the opposition,' noted Whittingdale. 'I commend the leader of the opposition for his conviction that we should act in a cross-party manner. I am saddened that his predecessor as leader of his party has not done so.' The cosy cross-party consensus atmosphere of just an hour previous had been blown out of the water by Brown's speech, it seemed. Jeering and heckling had returned to the Commons. Ben Bradshaw asked whether Sky Sports's monopoly on Test cricket on television would now be looked at. The former culture secretary also accused News Corp of wanting 'to cut the BBC down to size.' Which, frankly is a bit rich coming from Bradshaw who, when he was lack of culture secretary, tried to do pretty much the same thing. Nevertheless, it was difficult to to stand on one's chair and clap when he accused his successor the vile and odious rascal Hunt of 'bending over backwards' to help News Corp's bid for BSkyB. 'Sources' close to the lack of culture secretary then, reportedly, told the BBC that he should take 'credit' for today's outcome as he sent 'a searching letter' to regulator Ofcom on Monday. No, really. Jeremy Hunt brought Rupert Murdoch down. You heard it here first. Laugh? Laugh? I nearly ... Labour's Chris Bryant was next to speak, saying that he would start with some chilling words: Rupert Murdoch now infamous reply when asked what his main priority was. 'This one,' he replied, meaning well-known Crystal Tipps lookalike Rebekah Brooks and, seemingly, ignoring the victims of his own newspaper's illegal activities. He had still not offered anything approaching an apology, it was noted. Bryant went on to talk about Brooks saying that there was 'worse to come' and Peter Clarke, the former Scotland Yard officer, saying News International 'thwarted' the police investigation. One of the most disgusting things that has happened in the last few weeks, he suggested, is that those in 'the boiler room' at News of the World carried the can for those 'on the helm.' News Corp should not be allowed to maintain its current holding in BSkyB, he added. BSkyB does many good things. But it has been 'profoundly uncompetitive.' They are deliberately selling set-top boxes outside the UK too, he argued. 'If you go to a flat in Spain, you will find a Sky box.' Bryant noted that Sky spends twice as much on advertising as Virgin. It is 'anti-entrepreneurial' to allow one person to have all the power. All politicians had failed to hold the Murdochs to account, he said. If the Murdochs fail to attend the culture committee then people will conclude 'they are waving goodbye to Britain. That would not be such a bad thing.'

Moving away from the debate: The right-wing blogger Paul Staines (Guido Fawkes) has been making a series of new allegations - suggesting that Piers Morgan, formerly editor of the News of the World and the Daily Mirra, was aware of phone hacking during his time in charge of the Mirra. Staines quotes from the oily twat Morgan's own hideously self-aggrandising autobiography, The Insider. In an entry dated 26 January 2001, Morgan wrote: 'Apparently if you don't change the standard security code that every phone comes with, then anyone can call your number and, if you don't answer, tap in the standard four digit code to hear all your messages. I'll change mine just in case, but it makes me wonder how many public figures and celebrities are aware of this little trick.' The blogger then claimed that the same 'little trick' generated a story about Ulrika Jonsson, then a television presenter, and Sven Goran Eriksson, then the England football manager, having an affair. The story subsequently won Morgan, who was editor of the Mirra from 1995 until 2004 when he was sacked in disgrace for publishing faked photographs, the prize of Scoop of the Year at the British Press Awards. After Staines made his allegation, Conservative and Liberal Democrat MPs demanded that Morgan be questioned on his involvement in any alleged illegal practices. And they could have a word with him about his crimes against humanity on Britain's Got Talent an'all. Aidan Burley, the Tory MP for Cannock Chase, said: 'Piers Morgan should be called to the phone-hacking inquiry to face questions on oath.' Which would be fantastic, it must be said. 'Mr Morgan, is it true that you are, in fact, an oily twot. I must remind you that you are under oath.' Last week, Adrian Sanders, the Lib Dem MP for Torbay, implicated the Daily Mirra in the widening scandal. The Mirra has always said it has never hacked phones. As well as being the former editor of the Mirra, Morgan is also the former show business editor of the Sun and the former editor of the News of the World. He is now a broadcaster - not a 'successful broadcast' as the Torygraph suggested - in the US, working as a judge on America's Got Talent and as the host of CNN's main talk show, after he replaced Larry King. He remains an odious, slimy fraction of a man and anything - anything - which causes him even momentary discomfort is to be cheered from the rooftops.

David Cameron said that his former director of communications Andy Coulson 'should be prosecuted' if he lied in claiming to 'know nothing' about phone-hacking at the News of the World while he was editor. In a raucous Prime Minister's Question Time, Cameron - in the middle of another big sweat - was repeatedly challenged over his decision to appoint Coulson as his head of communications and was asked by Ed Milimolmanedi to apologise for his 'catastrophic error in judgment.' Cameron said: 'All these questions relate to the fact that I hired a tabloid editor. I did so on the basis of assurances he gave me that he did not know about the phone-hacking, he was not involved in criminality. He gave those self-same assurances to the police, to a select committee of this House and under oath to a court of law. If it turns out he lied, it won't just be that he shouldn't have been in government, it will be that he should be prosecuted.' So, that's him thrown to the wolves, then.

The Gruniad, meanwhile, has released a lengthy - actually very lengthy - statement responding to Cameron's claim that the paper's editor, Alan Rusbridger, did not bring up information regarding Andy Coulson hiring a known criminal, when Rusbridger had two meetings with the Prime Minister last year. Rusbridger wrote: 'The prime minister's account of why he failed to act on the information we passed his office in February 2010 is highly misleading. Any ordinary person hearing of the unpublishable facts about a convicted News of the World private investigator facing conspiracy to murder charges would have recognised the need to investigate the claims. The Guardian seem unable to prove definitively that Mr Cameron was directly informed of their concerns over Mr Coulson's connections. But they continue to stress that the Prime Minister's chief of staff Ed Llewellyn and senior adviser Steve Hilton were both told by Mr Rusbridger or his deputy Ian Katz about Mr Coulson and his alleged links to investigator Jonathan Rees, who had a criminal record and was on remand for conspiracy in an axe murder.'

From Drop the Dead Donkey to [spooks], MI6 and MI5 were drawn into the phone hacking scandal when News International executives were accused in parliament of having close dealings with 'rogue' members of the intelligence services. David Cameron said that the inquiry into hacking would be free to examine the allegations made in the Commons by Tom Watson, the former Labour defence minister who has campaigned tirelessly against phone hacking. Watson said: 'Can I ask the prime minister would he allow Lord Leveson access to the intelligence services as well? At the murkier ends of this scandal there are allegations that rogue elements in the intelligence services had very close dealings with executives at News International. We need to get to the bottom of that.' Cameron - seemingly slightly taken aback at finding himself in an episode of State of Play - replied: 'The judge can take the inquiry in any direction the evidence leads him. [Watson], like others, is free to make submissions to this inquiry and to point out evidence and to point out conclusions from that evidence and ask the inquiry to follow that.' Watson praised Cameron, Ed Milimolimandi and Nick Clegg for agreeing the terms of the inquiry. He said: 'If these measures are carried out, I think some good might come out of evil. I find myself in the slightly embarrassing position of being able to commend all three party leaders for coming together to make sure this happened. So thank you.' Earlier, he had asked the prime minister to investigate whether the phones of victims of the 9/11 attacks had been targeted by News International. He said: 'The debate this afternoon will be vital because it shows the house will be united in its revulsion at what was done to Milly Dowler's family. But could I ask the prime minister to make urgent inquiries as to whether families of the victims of 9/11 were similarly targeted by the criminals of News International? If they were will he raise it with his counterparts in the United States?' Cameron said: 'I will certainly look at that.'

Gan on yersel Tommy Watson was having - another - good day. Like Bryant, occupying the moral high ground without having to actually come out and say 'I told you so' (well, except to the odious Kay Burley, of course, that's allowed), just about everything Watson was saying was being eagerly reported by a national press who seem to regard him as just about the only honest man in the country at the moment: 'Rebekah Brooks has to answer about the payments question to the police. James Murdoch has to answer about the authorised payments to buy the silence of hacking victims. Rupert Murdoch is invited to the select committee next Tuesday. I hope he will use the opportunity to apologise to all the people that the criminals in his organisation targeted.' he added that News Corp was 'dragged kicking and screaming' into dropping the BSkyB bid.

Another highly quoteable MP was Simon Hughes, the Lib Dem deputy leader and, of course, someone who was also allegedly hacked by the News of the Scum himself. He actually did go down the 'I told you so' route, but he did it with some flair so we'll let him off just this once: 'My colleagues and I have been warning for seventeen years of the dangers of the growing influence of the Murdochs in Britain. Three days ago the most popular Murdoch title disappeared - ruined by the excesses of some of its staff. Today the News International bid for BSkyB has been withdrawn. At last the sun is setting on Rupert Murdoch's British empire. Journalism in the UK used to have the reputation as the best in the world. It is in the interests of all the public that this reputation is now restored.' Very poetic, Si.

That, however, was not a view shared by one lone Tory - Jacob Rees Mogg (no, me neither). Out of step not only with public opinion but, also, it would seem, with everyone else in his party. Rees Mogg told - a clearly relieved - Sky News that there has been 'an extraordinary hysteria and frenzy' directed towards News Corp and that it has acted in 'a politically adroit way' in withdrawing its bid for BSkyB. Budge up a bit Jacob, there's no room for anybody else to get in and give Uncle Rupert's chuff a damned good hard lick with you hogging all the space. Don't you just love brown-tongued pond scum, dear blog reader? I mean, seriously, they're almost an endangered species these days, they need to be nurtured and protected. We're in danger of losing the tiger already, losing the ass-kissing politician would be a tragedy beyond words.  Rees Moog is, of course, the son of William Rees Mogg - a former (highly respected) editor of The Times. Owned by News International. So, no quite staggering self interest there, then. Amusing factoid, dear blog reader: In March 2009, Rees-Mogg was forced to apologise to Trevor Kavanagh, the former political editor of the Sun, after it was shown that a newsletter signed by Rees-Mogg had plagiarised sections of a Kavanagh article which had appeared in the newspaper over a month earlier.

There's a brilliantly over-the-top think-piece by good old mad-as-toast Geoffrey Robinson in the Gruniad about the forthcoming inquiry and Murdoch's likely participation (or otherwise) in it: '"Be ye ever so high, the law is above you" is the great principle that embodies the rule of law. The Leveson inquiry established today will have the power to question Rupert Murdoch in public, even if the police from Operation Weeting lack the gumption to detain him in custody to assist with inquiries. Anyone whose employees engage in bribery, corruption or other crime for his benefit should be called upon to explain if they knew or approved, if only to exculpate themselves from secondary liability (eg for conspiracy, incitement, or aiding and abetting a criminal offence). Murdoch provides an acid test. As proprietor he could at least be expected to check any significant payments, to ensure that his company gets value for money. This was the basis for Michael Foot accusing him of personal responsibility for that infamous defamation in the Sunday Times – "KGB: Foot was our agent" – namely that he would have checked the payment made for the serialisation on which it was based. Several editors are on record confirming his practice of personally checking their expenditures. Someone in authority must have asked about the benefit of a six-figure payment to Glenn Mulcaire.'

Murdoch is said to be 'considering the future of News Corporation in the UK' after the failure of his twelve-month campaign to acquire Sky. The News Corp chairman and chief executive opted to withdraw his takeover bid for the sixty one per cent of Sky which the company does not already own following cross-party pressure from MPs and public revulsion at the horrific shenanigans in which his journalists have been involved. This leaves Murdoch facing a situation where it could take years for him to acquire the much-coveted pay-TV giant if, indeed, he will ever be allowed by politicians and the British public. A report in the Wall Street Journal today claimed that Murdoch has been considering the sale of News International, the embattled UK publisher of The Times, Sunday Times, the Sun and, until recently, the News of the World. News Corp opted to shut down the Sunday tabloid amidst allegations of widespread phone hacking. The Wall Street Journal, which is ALSO owned by News Corp, cited 'people familiar with matters' as saying that a total sale was among 'a variety of strategic options on the table' as News Corp looks to a future beyond the phone hacking scandal. However, the newspaper indicated that there didn't appear to be any buyers for the beleaguered News International, while Murdoch was also unlikely to sanction a deal. A sale would also not stop any criminal proceedings against the News International newspapers resulting from the current police inquiry. There has been speculation that Murdoch could return to the Sky bid in the future, particularly as the satellite broadcaster's share price has tumbled almost twenty per cent over the past week and is now below the seven hundred pence per share mark originally offered by Murdoch in June 2010. The media mogul appears to view pay-TV as an important and sustainable growth area compared with the declining newspaper market, and a cut price deal for Sky will remain attractive. In a statement, Sky noted News Corp's announcement of its bid withdrawal, but also highlighted the satellite broadcaster's long-term growth potential. Jeremy Darroch, the chief executive of Sky, said: 'We are delivering on our clear, consistent strategy and are building a larger, more profitable business for the long term. We remain very confident in the broadly-based growth opportunity for Sky as we continue to add new customers, sell more products, develop our leading position in content and innovation, and expand the contribution from our other businesses. I would like to commend all our employees for their unrelenting focus throughout the offer period and thank them for their continuing support.' Nicholas Ferguson, Sky's deputy chairman and senior independent non-executive director, added: 'Since the start of the offer period, Sky's management team has remained fully focused on its strategic and operational priorities, as evidenced in the strong results reported for the first nine months of the financial year. With good momentum and a range of options for continued growth, Sky is well positioned to increase earnings and cash flow and deliver higher returns for shareholders.' Despite the continuing allure of a deal for Sky, all aspects of the phone hacking investigations are likely to take several years to complete, and it is not expected that politicians will significantly change their view on Murdoch acquiring the satellite broadcaster in that time. Transport Secretary Philip Hammond told BBC2's Newsnight that any attempt by Murdoch to revisit the BSkyB deal at some point in the future would have to take into account the findings of both the inquiry and the police investigation into phone hacking. He said: 'If Murdoch were to return and seek again to take over BSkyB we would then be able to respond with the benefit of the outcome of that inquiry and that police investigation. It may be the case that in the course of that process we collectively come to the conclusion we need to change the law that governs media ownership and issues around concentration of power in the media.'

MPs are to meet later to decide whether to summon News International chief well-known Crystal Tipps-lookalike Rebekah Brooks to appear before them over the phone-hacking scandal for her damned good pants-down shoeing. The Commons Culture Committee also wants to question News Corporation executives Rupert and James Murdoch but is unable to compel them to appear. On Tuesday, the Commons Culture Committee invited Brooks and the Murdochs to give evidence about the phone-hacking scandal at the House of Commons. In a statement, the MPs said that serious questions had arisen about the evidence Brooks and the News of the World's former editor Andy Coulson gave at a previous hearing in 2003. Conservative MP Louise Mensch, who is a member of the committee, said the Murdochs should take the opportunity to appear before it on Tuesday next week. She said: 'We have powers over British citizens, in other words over Mrs Brooks. Rupert and James Murdoch are American citizens, we don't have any power over them, but I think it would surprise everybody if they were to have the guts to show up. It would show a little bit of leadership, it would be the first step in lancing this giant boil.' News International declined to comment on who might or might not attend the committee.
It was 'unwise' of the senior police officer in charge of the original investigation into phone hacking to dine with News International executives, Sir Hugh Orde, president of the Association of Chief Police Officers, has said. Orde, a former officer of the Metropolitan police who served as chief constable of the Police Service of Northern Ireland for nine years, was asked to comment after Andy Hayman, the former Met assistant commissioner, tried to defend his decision to accept hospitality from senior figures at News International while the phone-hacking investigation was under way. Hayman told MPs on the home affairs committee on Tuesday that the dinners were 'businesslike' rather than 'candlelit affairs where state secrets were discussed.' But Orde suggested that such meetings were not appropriate in the context of an investigation. And he joined his police colleagues in attacking News International for playing 'legal games' and withholding information from the investigation, urging the company to 'step up' and produce 'any information' they still have to ensure corrupt police officers who took payments are 'locked up.' Orde made his comments to the BBC Radio 4 Today programme as he discussed the grilling of senior officers by MPs on Tuesday. Asked if it was 'seemly' for an officer to accept hospitality under those circumstances, Orde replied: 'Frankly, no. In those precise circumstances it seems an unwise decision.' But he went on to say it would be a 'very strange world' if the press and police did not have a professional relationship. 'Let's be clear – we rely on the press to ensure public information is given out and the press rely on us. And I would meet as chief constable of Northern Ireland routinely with senior people – with editors, with reporters – and we would give background briefings. What the press report is a matter for them, but we have a professional obligation to make sure they understand the complexity of our world.' Orde dismissed suggestions that the police were either naive or complicit in the failure to unearth evidence of widespread phone hacking practices. Orde pointed out that the senior officers themselves told the home affairs select committee on Tuesday that with hindsight, and 'with more information,' they would have done things differently. 'They focused very much yesterday on the fact they could have done things differently if they had more information from News International, who, as described by Mr Clarke [the deputy assistant commissioner who oversaw the first investigation], thwarted his investigation,' said Orde. 'I think that is something very serious, which of course the public will be looking at.' Asked about News International's conduct, Orde said anyone being investigated does not always co-operate, but 'this was not a burglar saying nothing. This was a global company that had some responsibility and what we have here is the police service of this country, probably one of the most accountable services in the world, standing up and being counted. What we don't see yet is equal transparency or explanation from a very large multinational company who should frankly be explaining why they withheld information from such a serious investigation.' He added that the senior officers at the time were under 'huge pressure,' dealing with a number of challenges facing the capital and beyond. 'I think they should be respected and I have no doubt the inquiry will look into far more detail into the precise decision-making and all the documentation the police will supply, and I sincerely hope that News International now supply, including any information into what appears to be a small number of corrupt officers who were taking payments that started part of this ball rolling.' He urged the publisher to provide all relevant information now. 'If they have names, dates, times, places, payments to police officers, we would like to see them, so we can lock these officers up and throw away the key frankly, because any corrupt police officer does huge damage to the one hundred and forty thousand officers who go out every day to keep people safe.' He added: 'My sense of it is that it is not something that is endemic or cultural. I think the vast majority of officers would be absolutely outraged that someone in a position of authority with access to privileged information thinks it's right in any way, shape or form to give that information up.'

Media Matters for America, a liberal watchdog site whose reason for existence, in part, is bringing about the destruction of the right wing commentatoriat on Murdoch's FOX News network, is delving into the silence of many Hollywood celebrities on the phone hacking scandal. The Gruniad's Suzanne Goldenberg notes: 'As might be expected, MMA has delighted in the News of the World scandal and in needling FOX television for neglecting to cover it in its media show.' In a post on today, MMA cites a Reuters story suggesting that celebrities have not spoken out either because they have not been targeted to the same degree as those in Britain or because they are beholden to the Murdoch entertainment empire. 'As celebrities and politicians in the UK have already learned, this is a dangerous game to play,' MMA said. It went on to list three reasons why this was a seriously flawed strategy in what seems to be an attempt to cajole Hollywood celebrities to 'do a Hugh Grant,' or otherwise turn on tabloid journalists or Murdoch himself: 'Whether you're a celebrity or not, here are three things you should know about the News of the World Hollywood operation,' they wrote. 'News of the World had a US Bureau for Hollywood gossip. During the time period that Murdoch's UK News of the World reporters were engaging in alleged and admitted hacking, the tabloid had a US outpost. US News of the World editors are reportedly credited with scoops ranging from "a string of Lindsay Lohan exclusives" to "the news of Britney Spears' short-lived marriage to Jason Alexander."' The also allude to the fact that 'in 2005, Murdoch's tabloid apologised to Justin Timberlake for reporting 'untrue' allegations about him the previous year. On 25 August 2005, News of the World reported that they - along with the model Lucy Clarkson, whom they paid for the story - "have agreed to pay [Timberlake] a substantial sum which he has said he will donate to a charity of his choice."'
More recently, they continue, Angelina Jolie and Brad Pitt sued News of the World for printing false allegations that they were separating. In July 2010, the couple reportedly 'accepted undisclosed damages' to settle their claim, which they donated to their charity, the Jolie-Pitt Foundation. Finally, the piece notes starring in a Murdoch movie didn't give you a pass.' They state that 'In the spring of 2011, Hugh Grant – reportedly a phone-hacking victim himself – secretly taped a conversation he had with a former News of the World journalist [Paul McMullen] who has publicly described the paper's extensive and repeated use of phone hacking. The reporter told Grant that at the precise time Hollywood star Nicole Kidman was promoting the News Corp movie Moulin Rouge!, he was assigned to see who she was "shagging" and "what she was doing, poking through her bins and get some stuff on her" at the Cannes premiere.' Relatives of victims of the 9/11 terrorist attacks have also called for a US investigation into allegations that the News of the World tabloid tried to hack the phones of those killed. 'Someone should look into it to see if their rights were violated – the family members I've talked to are appalled, they're disgruntled, they have to relive the pain all over again,' Jim Riches, a former New York Fire department deputy chief, told Politico. Meanwhile, a second US senator has backed calls for the Department of Justice and the Senate Commerce Committee to investigate the US arm of News Corps. Frank Lautenberg, the Democratic senator for New Jersey, added his voice to a previous call by John Rockefeller for the regulatory authorities to examine whether News Corp has violated the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act, Adweek reports. The act makes it illegal for a US company to 'pay foreign officials' to obtain or retain business. 'Further investigation may reveal that current reports only scratch the surface of the problem at News Corporation,' Lautenberg wrote to the regulators. In another sign of how the phone hacking scandal is becoming a major news topic in the US, the National Journal has published a gallery of public figures and commentators in the pay of Rupert Murdoch, including Sarah Palin, Mike Huckabee and former talk show host Geraldo Rivera. The Australian arm of Murdoch's media empire has reportedly that it is to investigate all payments made to contributors since 2008. Meanwhile, two New York members of the US House of Representatives, Pete King and Louise Slaughter, demanded an immediate justice department investigation of whether US laws were broken, particularly in relation to any attempt to hack in to the phones of terrorist victims.

Tom Crone, the now-former legal manager of News International, has allegedly told 'a friend' that he was 'hung out to dry,' according to a tweet from The Times's news desk. Crone was responsible for advising the News of the World and the Sun on editorial matters before and after publication. The lawyer has, allegedly, told 'a friend' that he feared he was going to be 'hung out to dry' but insisted he was not personally implicated in the hacking scandal. Crone told MPs in 2009 that there was no evidence that the phone hacking at the newspaper went further than Clive Goodman, the royal correspondent jailed for his role in intercepting messages left for members of the Royal Household. Crone presented MPs with a letter from Harbottle & Lewis, a London law firm, which had been asked by News International to investigate the hacking claims. The letter said that there was no evidence of widespread hacking. This claim has since been alleged to be entirely false.

And, speaking of former News of the World deputy features editor scruffy unshaven shady geezer Paul McMullan, he has garnered little public support for the hack's cause while trying to defend the trade during heated TV exchanges with the likes of Hugh Grant and Steve Coogan. It might've helped if he'd had a shave although, personally, I doubt it. In his new stomping ground of Kent, he's not having much luck either, according to the Independent. McMullan has reinvented himself as a pub landlord, looking after the Castle Inn in Dover – but a namesake pub nearby is becoming increasingly exasperated with the inadvertent attention. 'McMullan is causing a stir,' says the Dover Castle Inn's Facebook page. 'We've had numerous phone calls form the media trying to speak to him – the last one at 11.30pm yesterday. And now, this morning, I have had an e-mail calling him all the names under the sun. So once more, if anyone is looking at this, Paul McMullan runs the CASTLE INN at DOVER. We are the DOVER CASTLE INN at TEYNHAM.'

The BBC is making preparations to try and avoid a blackout of news programmes during Friday's planned twenty four-hour walkout by journalists. Negotiations with the National Union of Journalists over compulsory redundancies at BBC World Service and BBC Monitoring are going down to the wire, with news staff due to take industrial action from midnight on Thursday. The last time BBC News was hit by a strike in November 2010, stand-ins including former GMTV presenter Emma Crosby and the BBC's own director of news Helen Boaden were drafted in to help keep shows on air. But, in what could be seen as a sign that the corporation does not intend to back down, preparations are under way to ensure cover is on standby for key programmes such as BBC Radio 4's Today on Friday. Meanwhile, the NUJ has sent a memo to staff outlining why it is striking following a ballot over compulsory redundancies, and how it thinks the BBC could halt the walkout. 'One of our members in the BBC World Service has already been dismissed. Two NUJ members at Monitoring, including our NUJ rep, will be forced to leave their jobs next week and the week after,' the union said. 'One other member in Monitoring will be made compulsorily redundant in August, together with several others in the World Service and others to come in the weeks and months to follow. The BBC has mishandled these cases and has not shown the will to sort them out.' The NUJ memo added that the union believes there are five ways the BBC can stop the strike. 'Extend the leaving dates of those immediately at risk to allow for further talks; Agree to release volunteers; Cut the red tape when it comes to redeployment and make it happen; Use vacant posts to offset the costs of employing those at risk; Apply fairness across the BBC and treat people the same – wherever they work.' However, the BBC business operations director, Lucy Adams, told staff in a recent internal e-mail: 'Our financial position means that we are unable to agree to the NUJ's demands for no compulsory redundancies and delaying taking action now means that we will be required to find even more money in the future, potentially affecting more jobs.' A further twenty four-hour strike is due to take place on 29 July.

Watch out for low-flying birds of prey if you are visiting the new Broadcasting House. The BBC has come up with a novel way of stopping a plague of pigeons from descending on its shiny new central London headquarters. It has, it is reported, hired a flock of specially trained hawks from Ecolab Pest Elimination. The Harris hawks will apparently swoop down on loitering pigeons and scare them off, according to BBC in-house magazine Ariel. 'The cost of the hawking programme is chicken feed compared to the costs of clearing up pigeon waste which is a hazardous substance and poses a health and safety risk,' a BBC spokesman said. Surely the Beeb should have just called in Steve Coogan's pest control expert Tommy Saxondale? I mean, Coogan himself hasn't got much on at the moment.

Presenting Top Gear has been voted the 'top dream job' for men in a poll carried out by ... someone. And reported in the media (and, to be fair here) as 'news.' In other 'news', apparently, right, the CIA had a man on the Grassy Knoll, right ... The jobs of Jezza, Hamster and Cap'n Slow were voted above the likes of video games tester and professional sportsman. The poll was conducted by My Voucher Codes - whoever they are - 'in order to understand UK career preferences.' Thirteen hundred and fifty six men over the age of eighteen took part in the poll. According to responses received, the top ten dream jobs for men in full:
1 Top Gear presenter (29 per cent)
2 Video games tester (25 per cent)
3 Professional sportsman (24 per cent)
4 Actor (21 per cent)
5 Formula 1 racing driver (19 per cent)
6 Fireman (17 per cent)
7 Stockbroker (16 per cent - eh?!))
8 Pilot (14 per cent)
9 Spy (12 per cent)
10 Inventor (11 per cent)
So, now we know that there's sixteen per cent of the world's male population who are, basically, maths geeks. That's a truly terrifying thought. Chairman Mark Pearson said: 'It's quite interesting to see that Top Gear presenter has beaten professional sportsman to take first place for men's dream job.' I'm stunned rock star wasn't on there personally but, otherwise ... Well, having said that, being a fireman is actually ruddy hard work and damn dangerous as well. But that apart there's not too much surprising on the list. Except stockbroker. Jeez, some blokes ... 'However, when you think about the injuries and amount of training that goes into being a professional sportsman, compared with a life of driving and testing cars, it doesn't seem all that surprising!'

The latest Keith Telly Topping's 45 of the Day is a classic. Classic song, classic video, classic lament. Classic lyrics.

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