CEOs have to wake up to a new set of rules

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Paisley MP Jim Sheridan asked Rupert Murdoch a fairly straightforward question at the Commons culture committee hearing on Tuesday. “Mr Murdoch, do you accept that you are ultimately responsible for this entire fiasco?” Rupert Murdoch’s answer? “No.”

Simple as that. The answer of one of the most powerful leaders in the media business.

Last week when I wrote my editorial, the world was a quite different place.

Then, I wrote about the potential for the toxicity to spread from the recently closed News of The World to the other titles within News International and the rest of News Corp. I wrote about how a simple tourniquet would not be enough to stop the poison.

Since then, the contagion has begun attacking the nerve centre of the Murdoch empire in New York City, leaving it blistered and cracked. Agitated shareholders have come to the fore to attack the behaviour of the company’s executive management team. The Murdochs have come under heavier fire with each passing day, not just here in the UK but wherever it operates. Witness the words of the chief executive of the Public Relations Society of America, Rosanna Fiske, who says News Corp faces “a looming reputation and credibility challenge across the world”.

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Rupert Murdoch no longer owns the UK government or indeed that of any other country. The man will not see his intended dynasty evolve. And most significantly the once most powerful influence on media, several government departments and (it has emerged) the Metropolitan police, has this week been seen as weak. Where once he was feared, now he faces open hostility.

Yet this crisis could have been managed so as to ensure that any one of the Murdochs’ dramatic concessions in the past fortnight could have carried more weight and authenticity. The closure of the News Of the World, the withdrawal of the bid for BSkyB, the (too late) acceptance of chief executive Rebekah Brook’s resignation and the full-page apologies; they might have meant something if Murdoch had acted more like a leader. But how can we take his apology as sincere when he doesn’t accept responsibility? “News of the World is less than 1% of our business,” he told Tuesday’s committee hearing, explaining how he couldn’t have known about the practice of phone hacking occurring. “I employ 52,000 people around the world.”

This is the wrong answer. It’s an excuse, not an apology.

For Rupert, for James and for any CEOs out there who still haven’t grasped this/ as CEO you are responsible for what goes on within your company. There are new skills demanded of anyone who wants that job. You can’t simply be great at finance or operations, or inspiring others. You must understand, engage with and represent your brand and your customer. This is no longer simply the sole responsibility of your top marketer or comms chief. Disappear, deny or dismiss, and you’ll be a dead man walking.

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