News International executives should go: British Deputy PM

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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.

But Prime Minister David Cameron's deputy, on a visit to Paris while the scandal played out at home, said there would be no new law to restrict press freedom in the wake of alleged abuses at the US tycoon's company.

Asked whether News International chief executive Rebekah Brooks should step down, Clegg told reporters it was not fair that junior staff should carry the can.

"Someone higher up the chain has to take responsibility," he said.

"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 anyone 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 told the MEDEF business forum in Paris earlier Friday.

"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 conceded that not all media outlets had behaved badly, even praising some newspapers for having pursued the issue 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 Pary, part of Cameron's Conservative-led coalition, vowed that the government would act to reform the system and restore public trust.

"We're going to take the opportunity to clean the system up and renew it," Clegg said, warning: "We cannot ever again have this spectacle of people in certain newspapers acting with complete impunity."

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 these inquiries would result in "heavy-handed legislation", but he did call for Britain's non-statutory media watchdog to be shut down.

"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 saw News International chairman James Murdoch, son of Rupert Murdoch, announce Thursday that the 168-year-old scandal sheet would fold.

It has also tainted a government that has long had close ties to Murdoch's global media empire.

Clegg said those ties were "far too cosy" adding that "there has been a culture of obsequiousness practised across party lines."

Police arrested Cameron's former chief media adviser Andy Coulson on 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 personal friend of News International's embattled chief executive Brooks -- herself another former News of the World editor.

© 2011 AFP

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