LONDON (AP) — A committee of British lawmakers called Rupert Murdoch unfit to run his global media empire — a finding that reflects just how deeply the phone hacking scandal born of his defunct News of the World has shaken the relationship between the press and politics.
The divisive ruling Tuesday against Murdoch, his son James and three of their executives also exposed the waning influence of the media tycoon and could jeopardize his control of a major broadcaster.
Parliament's Culture, Media and Sport committee — a panel that scrutinizes the standards of Britain's press and sports authorities — began an inquiry amid disclosures about widespread tabloid hacking of voice mail, concerns over bribes paid to police for scoops, and politicians who may have overstepped the bounds by cozying up to key players in the Murdoch empire.
Tarring the credentials of both the 81-year-old media mogul and James Murdoch, a former executive chairman of News Corp.'s U.K. newspaper division, the committee's scathing words on the Murdochs could affect their controlling stake in British Sky Broadcasting.
Britain's broadcasting regulator Ofcom acknowledged it was studying details of the report, which unanimously agreed that three key News International executives had misled Parliament — a verdict that can see offenders hauled before legislators to make a personal apology.
"We conclude, therefore, that Rupert Murdoch is not a fit person to exercise the stewardship of a major international company," the report said.
Among the 11-member committee, four lawmakers from Britain's Conservative Party — which Murdoch's flagship The Sun tabloid now supports — refused to endorse the report. It was supported by one Liberal Democrat and five members of the opposition Labor Party, which Murdoch ditched before Britain's 2010 national election.
The chairman, a Conservative, did not vote in line with parliamentary convention.
Philip Davies said the conclusion on Murdoch supported by Labour members was "not only over the top, but ludicrous."
The fallout has jolted Prime Minister David Cameron, who lost his top media adviser over the scandal and is fighting demands to sack a Cabinet minister over the links his office had to some of Murdoch's key staff.
Cameron may also face new embarrassment if Britain's media ethics inquiry orders — as expected — both him and ex-News of The World editor Rebekah Brooks to disclose scores of text messages they exchanged while she ran the tabloid.
Murdoch closed down the 168-year-old News of the World in July amid a public outcry over intercepted voice mail of celebrities and the murdered schoolgirl Milly Dowler.
Ofcom, which decides if broadcasters in the U.K. are "fit and proper" to hold a license, launched an inquiry last year into British Sky Broadcasting following revelations about phone hacking.
If the regulator was to find that News Corp. fails the test, it could be forced to divest part of its 39 percent stake, so it no longer held a controlling interest in the British broadcaster.
British law offers no legal definition of what constitutes a "fit and proper" person, meaning that Ofcom must use its judgment in deciding whether executives should be trusted to hold a broadcasting license. Analysts say that likely leaves any Ofcom decision open to legal challenges in the courts.
The committee said the House of Commons would need to decide on the punishment meted out to the three executives accused of misleading it: Colin Myler, an ex-News of The World editor who now works as editor-in-chief at the New York Daily News; Tom Crone, the British tabloid's longtime lawyer; and Les Hinton, the former executive chairman of News International and the former publisher of The Wall Street Journal.
All three issued statements denying they had misled the committee, or had taken part in any cover-up of phone hacking.
Parliament's power to fine such offenders or send them to jail lapsed in the 18th century — and a cell underneath Big Ben has long since been disused. However, offenders can be called to the House of Commons to be publicly admonished, a sanction last used against a non-lawmaker in 1957.
Murdoch has insisted he was unaware that hacking was widespread at the News of The World, blaming staff for keeping him in the dark and failing to inform him about payouts to victims.
The panel agreed that James Murdoch, 39, was badly at fault over the scandal — but they were again divided over the tone of their criticism. Lawmakers said they agreed that phone hacking at the News of The World dated back to at least 2001, and that James Murdoch could have halted the practice as early as 2008 if he had acted correctly.
James Murdoch had displayed a "lack of curiosity ... willful ignorance even," in failing to demand evidence that would have shown the extent of phone hacking, the report said.
Legislators agreed that both Murdochs must be "prepared to take responsibility" for corporate failures.
"Everybody in the world knows who is responsible