Let facts speak for themselves
"Not a fit person" to head a major international company ... Rupert Murdoch. Photo: AFP
THE scandal enveloping Rupert Murdoch's News Corporation over phone hacking and bribery still has a long way to run. So while the British parliamentary committee's report on its hearings is an important step in drawing conclusions, it will be counterproductive if it pushes these conclusions a bit too far. This gives those in the spotlight much more leeway to complain of political bias and a vengeful witch-hunt.
The report is damning enough. It accuses both Rupert Murdoch, the chairman of News Corp, and his son James, former head of the British subsidiary News International and satellite broadcaster BSkyB, of ''wilful blindness'' to the illegal methods routinely used by some of the group's British newspapers. ''This culture, we consider, permeated from the top throughout the organisation and speaks volumes about the lack of effective corporate governance at News Corp,'' the committee found.
Yet to go on to declare the senior Murdoch to be ''not a fit person'' to head a major international company may be stretching the case at this stage, and the credentials of the people declaring it. The insistence on making this point by a narrow majority of the committee's 11 members - five Labour MPs and one Social Democrat - robbed the report of the unanimity that would have made it more powerful.
It looks like an attempt to pre-empt the media regulator Ofcom's decision whether to approve the Murdochs and News as ''fit persons'' to run the lucrative BSkyB with the full ownership they are seeking. Yet the chain of responsibility for illegal activity gets hazy once it leaves British shores for News Corp headquarters in the US, whatever one thinks of the News Corp ''culture'' nurtured by Rupert Murdoch. James Murdoch, by ignoring critical warnings within his company, is more directly responsible for failure to clean up.
The BSkyB buyout is in trouble enough, after revelations about how the Culture Secretary, Jeremy Hunt, and his staff were helpful to the bid. The embarrassment of David Cameron about his past closeness to tainted News figures has been deepened. The British Prime Minister was summoned by the House of Commons Speaker to face Parliament about his handling of Hunt's alleged breaches of the ministerial code of conduct. It was disclosed that he defended Hunt without seeing the damaging email trail to News. In America, authorities are meanwhile looking at the implications of payoffs to British police under the US Foreign Corrupt Practices Act. The facts are speaking.
Keeping kids out of jail
THIS week the Herald's series on children and crime has revealed that more than half of children convicted of crimes in NSW reoffend within a decade, not just once but four times on average. Equally alarming is the news that assaults by juveniles have risen dramatically in the past decade, as have apprehended violence orders against juveniles.
Experts of the calibre of Don Weatherburn, director of the NSW Bureau of Crime Statistics and Research, say the system is too soft. In particular, the centrepiece of the state government's approach to juvenile crime, youth justice conferencing, hasn't worked. Putting young offenders face to face in a room with the victims of their crime to agree on how to respond to the crime as well as help them understand the full consequences of their actions looked like such a good idea. Alas, research has shown the scheme to have been no more effective in reducing recidivism than if the offenders had gone before the courts. Much as we might wish it otherwise, the evidence backs Weatherburn's view that it's ''naive to imagine that a young offender after years of involvement in crime will experience an epiphany and suddenly become law-abiding".
The debate at the heart of the current review of the Young Offenders Act 1997 is whether the law should focus on diverting young people away from formal court processes or whether it should focus on reducing recidivism. The answer is that the system should try to do both.
It is cause for dismay to learn through the Herald's reporting that many of those who seek anticipated violence orders against young people or report behaviour to the police which results in criminal charges are family members acting out of desperation. They seek help from the police but instead they get a prosecution. Clearly alternatives are needed.
Since, as the research shows, detention is not a deterrent, and the biggest risk factor for re-offending is having already been in custody, the system must work harder at the front end: building local services to address the types of social and economic disadvantage which propel young people towards criminal behaviours.
Restorative justice programs don't deal with the problems underlying juvenile offending such as poor parenting, poor school performance, impulsive behaviour, drug and alcohol abuse and joblessness. By the time children face the justice system, whether in a court or in a conference with their victims, it's too late.