Saturday, November 12, 2011

James Murdoch: Parliament failed this week

If I owned a company and you worked for me, and you did something bad to an innocent third party, I'd have to take some responsibility whether I knew about it or not.

I'd deserve the appropriate sentence - a slap on the wrist, a modest fine, and in the worst cases, a short-ish spell inside. As Chris Bryant says of James Murdoch,

"No CEO of a construction firm could have passed the buck in the way you have tried to do. In the end it's your company, your employees, your profits and your responsibility."

Not that anyone believes James Murdoch's "never-done-nuffink-dead-when-I-found-it" defence either. But with a high burden of proof, he deserves no stricter sanction than the CEO of Chris's construction firm (a sanction that he has not had placed upon him, by the way - he's walked away from that one).

But if I were then to place surveillance on the injured third party's lawyers, and on politicians who had taken up the case, the guilt would have moved up the food chain. In the way that jury-tampering is a lot worse than serious theft, the gravity of the situation increases exponentially.

This was not a deniable shop-floor decision. It was a corporate one. It was taken in the part of the company that was directly responsible to the the highest level of managers. And it is a graver charge than the hacking of Milly Dowler's phone.

It is also a transgression that News Corp actually admitted to and apologised for this week. Parliament seems to be saying "thanks for the apology - now let's move on."

Historically, Parliament has failed to acquire the powers to deter corporations from behaving this way. That's bad. With notable exceptions in Chris Bryant and Tom Watson, Parliamentarians failed to respond to News Corp's astonishing apology this week with anything more than a quiet sigh.

What a waste of space an money. They might as well pack up their bags and go home.

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