Murdoch will see Brooks acquittal as a victory
Analysis: hacking trial results better for Murdoch than for Cameron
Rebekah Brooks, former News International chief executive, leaves the Old Bailey in London yesterday. Photograph: AP Photo/Lefteris Pitarakis
The hacking trial verdicts, when they finally came three years after the closure of the News of the World, were better for Rupert Murdoch than for David Cameron, the UK prime minister, who let himself be drawn into the media mogul’s orbit.
Rebekah Brooks, the defendant who was closest to Mr Murdoch – and who is still close – was cleared of all charges while Andy Coulson, Mr Cameron’s press secretary until the hacking scandal erupted, was convicted at the Old Bailey of conspiracy to intercept voicemail messages.
Not only was Ms Brooks, a former chief executive of News International and editor of the NotW, cleared by the jury along with her husband Charlie Brooks, but Mr Murdoch’s empire has moved on. The NotW has been succeeded by the Sun on Sunday and Mr Murdoch has returned to dealmaking.
The scandal started with seismic explosions – the disclosure in the Guardian that the NotW hacked the phone of the missing schoolgirl Milly Dowler, followed by the paper’s abrupt closure – but appears to be ending with a whimper. The court has not given the clear-cut verdict the prosecution wanted.
The jury found that knowledge of hacking reached all the way up to Mr Coulson, the NotW’s former editor. Yet other defendants were acquitted; the verdicts lacked the shock value that could have re-energised the campaign for more independent UK press regulation.
Lord Justice Leveson, the judge who led a public inquiry into press behaviour, called in 2012 for tougher self-regulation. Since then, media groups including News Corp, Mr Murdoch’s publishing business, have rejected the Royal Charter backed by politicians, and are set to launch a new regulator that is criticised by Hacked Off, the campaign group.
These verdicts are unlikely to have a decisive impact on that debate. Instead, once the jury has concluded deliberating on the remaining charges, the wrangle will continue, with Mr Murdoch and his son James, who was embroiled in the scandal but now works in the US, at a safe distance. Ms Brooks’ acquittal is a bookend for News Corp, the company that holds newspaper and print assets such as the Wall Street Journal and HarperCollins.
News Corp was divided last year from 21st Century Fox, which holds most of the television and entertainment properties.
That split, partly forced on a reluctant Mr Murdoch by investor concerns about the phone-hacking scandal and the value of the print assets, has increased the value of his empire .
The verdicts limit the reputational damage to various journalists who once worked for the NotW, rather than News Corp’s executives. They also have personal importance. When Mr Murdoch flew to London amid the scandal and was asked his priority, he pointed at Ms Brooks and replied, “this one”.
Given the closure of the NotW, the failure of his News Corp’s 2011 attempt to acquire British Sky Broadcasting and the waning of his UK political influence, her acquittal comes at a price. But he will take it as a victory all the same.
– (Financial Times Limited)