Byline Investigates Murdoch: Former Labour Leader Questions Mogul’s Decision To Take Back Boss After Phone Hacking Scandal

By Graham Johnson

Editor, Byline Investigates

Ed Miliband has criticised Rupert Murdoch’s newspaper business for giving Rebekah Brooks her old job back.

The former Labour leader told a meeting in Parliament: ‘The rehiring of Rebekah Brooks speaks volumes about their attitude to corporate governance.’

Murdoch’s leadership is under scrutiny because of his latest bid to take full control of Sky TV.

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Brooks was welcomed back as Chief Executive Officer at News UK – the renamed News International part of Murdoch’s newspaper wing – four years after resigning at the height of the phone hacking scandal.

The move in September 2015 came as a surprise to the media industry, not least because Murdoch’s British tabloid newspapers did not perform well under her stewardship.

Under Brooks’ editorship at the News of The World, between 2000 and 2003, newsroom bosses and senior reporters ran a massive illegal spying operation, targeting thousands of innocent victims.

Later on, during her stint as CEO of News International, between 2009 and 2011, the company presided over a cover-up which led to the closure of the News of the World.

Miliband: asked questions of Brooks
Miliband: asked questions of Brooks

Whilst he was Leader of The Opposition, Ed Miliband was the first senior public figure to ask the controversial journalist to ‘consider her position’ in July 2011, following revelations that News of The World investigators had hacked the voicemail of murdered schoolgirl Milly Dowler.

Brooks’ alibi was that she didn’t know what was going on.

Her explanation was accepted as plausible by some.

In her favour, the evidence of hacking and blagging was confined to a single newspaper, namely The News of the World, during her first ever editorship – when she was the youngest on Fleet Street.

At the time, there was no evidence that similar crimes had occurred during her second editorship, that of The Sun, so she could not be accused of presiding over a repeated pattern of wrongdoing.

Brooks was cleared of phone hacking at the Old Bailey in 2014.

However, her recovery since the scandal has been bumpy, and her record as a businesswoman has been chequered.

Profits have been sucked away after hundreds of millions of pounds were shelled out in compensation for phone hacking.

SunBets, a gambling arm that Brooks nurtured to future-proof the paper against expensive news gathering and falling ad revenues, is possibly facing a big fine off the Gambling Commission for the ‘piegate’ scandal, at a time when growth is sluggish.

Brooks: Cleared of hacking in 2014
Brooks: Cleared of hacking in 2014

And during her period as CEO of News UK, The Sun began losing money for the first time since Murdoch bought the paper in the 1960s.

But worse may be yet to come.

New evidence has recently emerged that reporters at her second paper The Sun, ran an equally sinister illegal operation, using the same PIs.

Once again, the fresh allegations centre around the time that Brooks was pulling the strings, a role that she held between 2003 and 2009.

Despite the controversy, Murdoch has stood by his CEO.

In a Parliamentary meeting, arranged by the campaigning organisation Avaaz last Monday 20th November, Mr Miliband was asked if Brooks could be called back by MPs to answer questions about the new allegations.

He replied that it was a ‘matter for the relevant committee’ to decide whether to call Brooks back for questioning.

Brooks appeared before the Culture, Media and Sport Committee twice, in 2003 and then in 2011, and a year later at the Leveson Inquiry into press ethics.

Mr Milliband made his latest remarks at a meeting to raise concerns about the proposed takeover of Sky TV by Murdoch’s US-based broadcaster Fox.

The 61% buy-out plan has been referred to the Competition and Markets Authority by Culture Secretary Karen Bradley, following Ofcom’s decision to rubber-stamp the deal.

Mr Miliband heard evidence from four US whistle-blowers, who said that Rupert Murdoch’s American outfit was not fit to take over full control of Sky because of a culture of racism and sexual discrimination.

Joe Lindsley, the former protégé of Fox News founder Roger Ailes, told how his mentor fabricated quotes and headlines.

Lindsley’s forthcoming book Fake News True story blows the lid on further allegations of bullying and smear campaigns against people who criticised Ailes.

Ailes resigned in 2016 after being repeatedly accused of sexual harassment at Fox, and paying out millions of dollars in compensation to victims. He died earlier this year.

The other speakers included Kelly Wright, a Fox News anchor who is suing the network for racial discrimination and Jessica Golloher, a Former Fox News radio correspondent suing the channel for gender-discrimination and victimisation.

“Class-action” lawyer Douglas Wigdor, who represents 27 victims of alleged racial and sexual harassment at Fox, was joined on the panel by Avaaz Senior Campaigner Alaphia Zoya.

Mr Miliband also heard evidence from British-based activists who spoke about problems at Murdoch’s News UK News which owns The Sun, The Times and The Sunday Times.

Since the phone hacking scandal, new evidence has emerged that illegal activity was much more widespread than the News of the World. has revealed allegations that Sun journalists paid cash to private investigators to steal medical records, bank accounts and phone bills on an industrial scale.

Around 100 claimants are suing Murdoch’s holding company News Group Newspapers for alleged misuse of private information and phone hacking.

Dr Evan Harris
Dr Evan Harris

Dr Evan Harris, the Executive Director of Hacked Off, summarised some of the new evidence, including allegations that the Sun’s former Political Editor Trevor Kavanagh effectively ‘blackamiled’ an MP into ‘coming out’ as bisexual.

Mr Harris said that Kavanagh had forced the MP into making the admission after another The Sun executive told the MP that they knew he’d called gay chat lines at night.

The evidence allegedly came from a phone bill that had been illegally obtained by a private detective for The Sun news desk.

Byline Investigations has also reported claims made in the High Court about Rebekah Brooks’ tasking of private investigator Steve Whittamore.

Brooks told two Parliamentary committees, the Leveson Inquiry and the jury at her own trial that she had only ever commissioned PIs to trace paedophiles, as part of her high-profile ‘For Sarah’ campaign in the summer of 2000

However, there are discrepancies in her account.

For example, one of her targets was an innocent painter and decorator called Tony Harding from Doncaster, South Yorkshire.

Brooks was invoiced for £155.69 by Steve Whittamore for an illegal inquiry into Mr.Harding’s phone number in December 2001, more than 16 months after the ‘For Sarah’ campaign ended.

Mr Harding is said to be very angry for effectively being branded a paedophile, a term that he finds abhorrent, and one which has never been linked to his name.

He was again named as an ‘alleged paedophile’ by a lawyer acting for NGN in the High Court a couple of months ago.

Inquiries by Byline Investigations have established that Brooks’ unlawful inquiries into Tony Harding have nothing to with outing paedophiles, but were motivated for other reasons not remotely in the public interest.

The panel was reconvened later in the day, at the University of Westminster in Regents Street, however Ed Miliband was replaced as chair by Professor Steve Barnett, who said that he been writing about Rupert Murdoch’s affect on standards and plurality since the 1980s.

After the panel spoke, Professor Barnett – who is also on the board of Hacked Off -took questions from some of the 150 audience members on racism and diversity at Fox, and whether the Competition and Markets Authority can make decisions on broadcasting standards.

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