The phone-hacking scandal at a News Corp-owned tabloid was the catalyst for a 16-month probe into UK media ethics, but the conglomerate is unlikely to be affected by today’s disclosure of the inquiry’s findings. “There’s nothing here I can see that changes the business prospects of News Corp”, media analyst Ken Doctor tells Deadline. Wall Street seems to agree: News Corp shares closed up 1.4% today. What’s more, CEO Rupert Murdoch escaped virtually unscathed from the Leveson Inquiry‘s report, which called for an independent, self-regulated press watchdog that can levy hefty fines. But that means nothing “if you’re deep-pocketed enough”, Doctor tells me.
Although Murdoch has lost some of his political clout in the UK, he’s becoming more politically active in the U.S. His “ability to move his power base from Britain, where he exercised great political power, to the U.S. should not be minimized,” Doctor says. For example, this month New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie felt compelled to call Murdoch when the mogul tweeted that Christie’s appearances with President Obama after Hurricane Sandy undermined GOP candidate Mitt Romney. “Christie, while thanking O, must re-declare for Romney, or take blame for next four dire years,” Murdoch wrote. Shortly afterward, The New York Times reported, Christie publicly affirmed his support for Romney. That’s why the response to the UK effort to trim the media’s sails “blows on both sides of the Atlantic, and that’s why undue press power to bully is a core question,” Doctor says.
Still, British media reports today largely focused on the Leveson report’s calls for an independent watchdog. The Murdoch-owned Wall Street Journal is carrying a quote by Tom Mockridge, the CEO of News Corp’s UK press arm News International, that reads: “As a company we are keen to play our full part, with others in our industry, in creating a new body that commands the confidence of the public. We believe that this can be achieved without statutory regulation — and welcome the Prime Minister’s rejection of that proposal. We accept that a new system should be independent, have a standards code, a means of resolving disputes, the power to demand prominent apologies and the ability to levy heavy fines.”
Prime Minister David Cameron, eager not to alienate his media allies and many of his constituents, said he had “misgivings” about putting restrictions on the press into the lawbooks. The report will be further debated in Parliament on Monday.