Former chair of News International steps down

 

NEW YORK – Les Hinton, chief executive officer of News Corp’s Dow Jones and Co unit, announced his resignation yesterday, the second company executive to step down in a day.

Mr Hinton (67) was chairman of News International for 12 years until 2007, giving him a leading role at the UK newspaper unit during the time when the alleged hacking scandals developed.

News Corp, controlled by chairman Rupert Murdoch, announced Mr Hinton’s resignation in a statement yesterday.

“That I was ignorant of what apparently happened is irrelevant and in the circumstances I feel it is proper for me to resign from News Corp and apologise to those hurt by the actions of News of the World,” Mr Hinton said.

Mr Hinton has been accused of giving misleading information to the British parliament on two occasions, in 2007 and 2009, by saying there was no evidence of widespread malpractice within the company.

With the spotlight on Ms Brooks, he had largely managed until yesterday to stay on the sidelines of the crisis.

He had given no comments and had not been seen in public since the hacking of murdered British schoolgirl Milly Dowler’s voicemail was revealed earlier this month.

Media analyst Claire Enders, said questions would be asked about Mr Hinton’s role: “How the culture emerged at N ews of the Worldwhile he was head of News International, and what if anything he knew about the 2007 report into its activities, will emerge.”

So far parliament in London has given no indication that it wants to recall Mr Hinton to explain his earlier comments to the culture, media and sport committee.

But MPs have expressed their dissatisfaction with his appearances before them.

News Corporation is embattled within the US, with particular concern that victims of the 9/11 attacks might have been targeted.

Four members of Congress, from both parties, have called for official inquiries into whether the illegal practices displayed by News of the Worldin the UK were ever repeated by News Corp’s print or other businesses in the US.

The four include senators Barbara Boxer and John Rockefeller, who wrote a joint letter to the US attorney general; Eric Holder, asking for an investigation into whether Mr Murdoch’s company, whose headquarters are in New York, broke anti-bribery legislation under the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act.

The senators referred to bribes by News of the Worldreporters to London police officers.

“The reported allegations against News Corp are very serious, indicate a pattern of illegal activity and involve thousands of potential victims. It is important to ensure that no United States laws were broken and no US citizens were victimised,” the senators wrote.

Meanwhile New Jersey senator Robert Menendez wrote on his website: “If there is a chance that the victims of 9/11 and their families were victimised again by tabloids seeking to profit off their grief, we must bring those responsible to justice.”

The FBI has also begun an investigation from its New York branch into allegations that the newspaper’s journalists attempted to get hold of phone details of victims of the 9/11 attacks.

The inquiry is the first formal review begun on the US side of the Atlantic into News Corporation affairs.

A spokesman for the families of British victims of 9/11 said it would be “an outrage” if their loved ones’ phones were hacked, but said the group had no evidence it of this had happened.

“If this happened I am not surprised,” said Tom Clarke. “But I am not convinced this ever happened.”

US media commentators were unsurprised by the resignation of Ms Brooks.

Henry Blodget of Business Insidersaid it was inevitable. “The fallout from the scandal has led to criminal charges, torpedoed News Corp’s strategic plans, clobbered its reputation and thrown its leadership into doubt.”

But financial analysts said that to some extent Mr Murdoch was insulated from the full blast of the scandal in the US by the fact investors regarded his print holdings as relatively unimportant.

Alan Gould at Evercore Partners in New York, estimates that 53 per cent of News Corp’s income this year will come from cable networks such as Fox News, compared with 14 per cent from publishing, of which the UK papers formed just one part.

“What would really rock Murdoch would be if his ability to hold US television stations was put in doubt, and that’s unlikely,” said Mr Gould.

– (Guardian service, Bloomberg)