News International bosses should go: British Deputy PM

8th July 2011, Comments 0 comments

Top executives at Rupert Murdoch's News International should resign over a telephone-hacking scandal that has destroyed trust in the press, Britain's Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg said Friday.

Clegg, on a visit to Paris as the scandal played out at home, also called for Britain's "busted" media watchdog to be replaced because newspapers had gained too much power to "make or break people's lives."

But Prime Minister David Cameron's deputy insisted there would be no new law to restrict press freedom in the wake of the alleged abuses at the US media tycoon's company.

Asked whether News International chief executive Rebekah Brooks should step down, Clegg told reporters it was unjust that junior staff should carry the can, declaring: "Someone higher up the chain has to take responsibility."

"It's just not fair to fire a bunch of journalists, secretaries and office administrators and think you can wash your hands of the affair," he said.

"In business as in politics, if you are senior you have authority, you've got power, you've got the responsibility to take it on the chin when things go wrong," he argued.

"I think that it's very important that people in authority in News International should reflect very hard on their own positions," he said, without mentioning Brooks or News International chairman James Murdoch by name.

Clegg declared that the telephone-hacking scandal that brought down The News of the World -- the Sunday paper founded in 1843 will issue its final edition this weekend -- had destroyed trust in the press.

"I think that what we're seeing is a total collapse in public confidence in yet another pillar of the British establishment," he earlier Friday told the MEDEF business forum in Paris.

"I totally share the public dismay, disgust and anger," Clegg said.

He compared the tabloid's offence to the catastrophic loss of trust in Britain's banks during the credit crunch and to the recent politicians' expenses scandal that shamed the Westminster parliament.

But Clegg admitted not all media outlets had behaved badly, and even praised some newspapers which pursued the issue even after the British police and News International's internal inquiry had cleared senior staff.

"Britain has some of the best, most innovative, most iconoclastic ... investigative journalism anywhere in the world," he said.

"It was partly due to persistent, outstanding journalism in some parts of the British press, like The Guardian, that all these problems were exposed in other parts of the press. So it would be wrong to typecast everybody."

Clegg, who is leader of the centrist Liberal Democrat wing of Cameron's Conservative-led coalition, vowed that the government would help to clean up the behaviour of the media and restore public trust.

Earlier, in London, Cameron had announced two public inquiries -- one into the scandal at the News of the World where editors are accused of snooping in private voicemail accounts, and one into general media ethics.

Clegg said he did not believe that these inquiries would result in "heavy-handed legislation" but insisted that Britain's non-statutory media watchdog must be repelaced with a new body.

"Clearly the Press Complaints Commission is a busted flush. It's toothless. It doesn't work and needs to be replaced," he said.

The scandal -- which saw Murdoch's son James announce Thursday that the 168-year-old scandal sheet would fold -- has also tainted a government that has long had close ties to Murdoch's media empire.

Police arrested Cameron's former chief media adviser Andy Coulson Friday over alleged offences he is said to have committed while editor of the News of the World between 2003 and 2007, when he resigned over telephone hacking.

Cameron is also a friend of News International's embattled chief executive Brooks -- herself another former News of the World editor.

Murdoch will reportedly replace the paper with a Sunday edition of The Sun, his daily tabloid, which is Britain's biggest selling newspaper.

© 2011 AFP

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