Liam recently completed the MA Print Journalism course at the University of Sheffield. He has been on work experience at the Manchester Evening News and The Sunday Times and is about to start freelancing for Press Association Sport. He can be found blogging about sport here and on Twitter.
Considering the battering that the journalism industry has taken in recent weeks, this select committee was an important one. Here, in the shape of James Murdoch, Rupert Murdoch and Rebekah Brooks, we had a chance for prominent players to provide critical answers. It was also an opportunity to delve deeper into the inner workings of the massive media conglomerate News Corporation.
Rupert was always going to be the star attraction. There are few, if any, who have more of an influence on the media across the world and his appearance at this trial highlighted its significance. So what did we learn? Well with great power comes, according to Rupert, no responsibility.
He stated that he would not be resigning, absolved himself of accountability and played dumb when quizzed on those mired in the controversy. The trio all claimed to be none the wiser when it came to activities of phone hacking. So where did the buck lie? Frustratingly but rather predictability each relied on the safety blanket of the legal proceedings to excuse them from divulging that.
Labour MP Tom Watson did a sterling job as an interrogator. His probing forays into Gordon Taylor’s out-of-court settlement made James Murdoch squirm and he clearly relished his interactions with Murdoch senior too. Had he not been digging into the family’s professional dealings one suspects Rupert may have even been inclined to offer the tenacious Watson a job.
Elsewhere, Louise Mensch’s line of questioning was of particular interest to other journalists. The Tory MP put it to James Murdoch and Brooks that there may have been a “wider culture of hacking, blagging and private detectives within Fleet Street”. But the Murdochs and Brooks were in damage limitation mode and were in no position to go on the attack. James refused to “impugn other newspapers” whilst Brooks insisted she was “not here in a position to comment on other newspapers” yet declared “The Sun is a very clean ship, a great newsroom”.
The fact newspapers don’t make anywhere near as much money as Rupert’s other outlets perhaps made the decision to dispose of the News of the World all the easier. But his passion for print was evident when he told the committee about his father’s career as a print journalist and his personal desire to see his children continue his work. He used his closing statement to stress that he hoped their contribution to Britain “will one day also be recognised”. Whether that legacy will be viewed favourably or not remains to be seen. The three of them, to differing degrees, provided ardent defences of free press in this country and the continuing tradition of hard, investigative journalism in spite of the feathers it may ruffle. The latter point is slightly skewed given News Corporation’s dismay at The Guardian’s burrowing into their affairs.
It’s even more ironic when you consider that the activities of people working under them, regardless of their knowledge of such actions, may be well be the final nail in the free press coffin.