15 November 2011


News Limited, the Australian arm of Murdoch-controlled News Corp, has released a short report [PDF] by independent assessors into whether there had been "improper payments" to police and other entities.

The report follows what it describes as
disclosure that persons associated with or employed within the Murdoch group of companies in the United Kingdom had engaged in illegal and reprehensible activity, including telephone hacking.
That activity is currently the subject of the Leveson Inquiry in the UK, with indications that misbehaviour involved figures within News and within its competitors.

News agreed that
two independent persons nominated by the Chair of the [Australian Press] Council, Professor Julian Disney, should be appointed “to help provide public assurance that News Limited has initiated and acted upon the review in an appropriate manner”
The review was to -
• Determine whether within the preceding five year period any improper payments may have been made to police or other government officials.
• Establish whether any private investigators engaged by or on behalf of News Limited may have acted in an illegal or reprehensible fashion in relation to such engagements.
• Make any recommendations considered necessary to ensure that proper standards of ethics and accountability were maintained at all levels within the Group's newspapers.
The independent assessors were former Victorian Supreme Court justices the Hon Bernard Teague AO and the Hon Frank Vincent AO QC. They comment that -
In our view, it can reasonably be accepted that, properly conducted, the review as constructed certainly ought have brought to light any systemic issues with respect to the making of payments to third parties and any substantial amounts paid to individuals in respect of illegitimate activities.

With regard to the rigour with which the review was conducted, we are reliant upon the reports given to us. However, we have no reason to suspect that the enquiries were not conducted as assiduously as indicated to us or that the findings made could be sensibly perceived as problematic in any respect.
The Herald-Sun reported the 'all clear' -
Prime Minister Julia Gillard was quick to use the phone-hacking scandal involving the News of the World in Britain to start a media inquiry into what she implied might be similar intrusions by News Limited papers in Australia.

The Herald Sun, which is owned by News Limited, was just as quick to reassure its readers that such illegal intrusions did not happen here.

There was no reason to start a media witchhunt, which has been driven by Labor and the Greens who do not like reading what the public thinks of their policies, such as the carbon tax.

But the audit of its newspapers, undertaken by News Limited and independently assessed by retired Victorian Supreme Court judges Frank Vincent and Bernard Teague, has found no evidence of illegitimate telephone surveillance or payments to public officials.

However, taxpayers' money is being wasted by Labor and the Greens in a media inquiry it hopes will regulate or license newspapers, which will lay them open to political interference.
Editorial angst about regulation is consistent with the recent comment by News journalist Andrew Bolt that proposals for a statutory tort of privacy were "a sinister law, planned by a government with sinister motives".

The Herald-Sun elsewhere reports that -
A Review of News Limited's major newspapers has found no evidence of illegitimate phone surveillance or payments to public officials, the media company says.

The three-month review was commissioned by News Ltd chief executive John Hartigan, and carried out by a team of 26 auditors.

The auditors scrutinised almost 700,000 transactions carried out over a five-year period.

Retired Victorian Supreme Court judges Frank Vincent and Bernard Teague, appointed as independent assessors of the review by the Australian Press Council, said today they had no reason to suspect the review was not conducted ``as assiduously as indicated to us''.

"The review's findings provide the strongest possible support for News Limited's assertion that its editorial staff have not commissioned the kind of illegitimate surveillance or payments that have come to light in the UK,'' News Ltd said in a statement. ...

"I said at the start of this process I had no reason to suspect any wrongdoing,'' the soon to retire News Ltd chairman and chief executive John Hartigan said in a statement today.

"An incredibly diligent piece of work has confirmed that.
We can all sleep soundly tonight.