Archive for April, 2012

Phone hacking: despite appearances the centre of gravity has moved west!

Posted in Media with tags , , , , , on April 24, 2012 by Tom Leatherbarrow

With the Murdoch’s due to appear at Leveson this week and Labour MP Tom Watson publishing his new book, Dial M for Murdoch, you could be forgiven for thinking that the UK remains at the centre of the phone hacking crisis engulfing the Murdoch media empire.
 
You’d be wrong.  Almost out of sight is a development which threatens News Corporation in the US, as opposed to News International in the UK and that is very, very significant.  The Dowler family lawyer, Mark Lewis, now claims that he is representing four individuals whose phones were hacked on US soil.  At least one is a US citizen.  Others are, apparently, coming out of the woodwork daily.
 
According to a Guardian report last week, there is evidence that Fox News, Murdoch’s US cable TV operation is now implicated.  For News Corporation, the holding company, this is a nightmare come true. 
 
If phone hacking has crossed the Atlantic then senior management at News Corporation could find themselves in the dock.  Federal law states that an individual who violates telecommunications privacy for commercial purposes can face five years in prison with a 10 year tariff for a subsequent offence.   What’s more, civil courts can also offer damages in relation to the profits gained by the violators with punitive damages possible thereafter.
 
How big a deal is this?  Let’s put it this way.  In the US, News Corporation’s cable properties constitute over 60 per cent of operating income for the company.  With News Corporation making circa$1.06bn (£888m) net profit in their last quarterly filing to the SEC it is clear that any implication that Fox has been up to dirty tricks has massive implications.
 
However, it doesn’t stop there.  The Met Police’s investigation of bribery of public officials also has the potential to cross the Atlantic if it hasn’t already.  The Foreign Corrupt Practises Act offers the opportunity for the SEC to investigate the operations of News International in the UK but prosecute senior officials of News Corporation in the US.
 
The big question is, where does all this end?  My own view is that a number of very high profile people, some of whom have had access to the very highest levels of UK government (you know who I mean!)  are going to prison.  Probably for perjury, possibly for bribery and possibly for perverting the court of justice. 
 
Unfortunately James Murdoch, who was recently spirited out of the country to a new position in the US, in an attempt to distance him from phone hacking, may find that New York is uncomfortably close to the SEC headquarters in Washington DC.

A tale of machine tools, salmon fishing and er … Ewan MacGregor!

Posted in business, Media with tags , , , , , on April 19, 2012 by Tom Leatherbarrow

What do 5-axis machining centres, salmon fishermen and a certain Scottish actor have in common?  I’ll explain.  In July of last year I travelled to Tyneside (Team Valley Business Park to be precise) to interview the managing director of a company called Responsive Group for an article on behalf of one of my clients.  Responsive are a big user of their machine tools.

I was met by the MD, Peter Bernard, and the chairman of Responsive, Paul Torday.  Both, very patiently, led me through the history of Responsive, the company’s approach to manufacturing and their use of some very big and powerful machine tools.  As an aside, anyone who thinks British manufacturing is dead in the water needs to get out more and visit companies like Responsive.

Afterwards, while Peter was giving me a tour of the production facilities he casually observed, “Paul’s an interesting chap, he just decided on the spur of the moment to write a book a few years ago, it’s been published too!”  When I returned to the office I looked the book up on Amazon and added it to my ‘wish list’.  However, as the weeks wore on and my bedtime reading suffered due to the sheer exhaustion of having two young children, I never actually bought it.

A few days ago a bus crossed my path on the Hagley Road in Birmingham with an advert on the side for a new film called ‘Salmon Fishing in the Yemen’, starring Ewan MacGregor and Emily Blunt.  Where had I heard that title before?  And then it occurred to me.  Salmon Fishing in the Yemen is a film based on the book written by Paul Torday, chairman of the Responsive Group.  It is, apparently, a romantic contemporary fable about an attempt to introduce salmon into the Yemeni wadis.

Yesterday, I was fortunate to bump into Peter again at MACH 2012, the machine tool expo which is a mecca for anyone turned on by metal cutting.  He had hot-footed it down to the NEC straight from the world premiere on Tuesday night.  His verdict on the new film?  “It’s very good.”

That hole, Prime Minister, is a credibility gap!

Posted in Politics, PR with tags , , , , , on April 17, 2012 by Tom Leatherbarrow

Troubling times for the Coalition with a series of ‘presentational’ or PR gaffes that have led to the inevitable headlines that the honeymoon is well and truly over.  Pasty-gate, charitable giving, jerry cans and the Granny Tax not only provide plenty of headlines, but also give the Eds (Miliband and Balls) an opportunity for a photoshoot at Greggs.

However, it would be wrong to blame the Government’s PR for this (although one suspects the No.10 communication team has had a bit of a roasting recently).  The sense I have is that something more strategic is going wrong.  Charitable giving appears to cut directly across the Big Society programme.  Whacking pensioners threatens the “we are all in this together” reasoning behind the austerity programme (and I suspect threatens to drive a large percentage of those who actually bother to vote into the arms of UKIP).

Next up, I suspect, is the Green Deal.  According to the Sunday Telegraph there is currently a battle royal going on between the Treasury and the rest of the Coalition about the Government’s flagship environmental initiative.  The Chancellor and a number of other Conservative MPs want it scrapped.  The Deputy Prime Minister on the other hand made a major speech last week, which can be read HERE, telling us all that it would revolutionise how we heat our homes.  Scrapping it would be rather uncomfortable for a Prime Minister who came into office promising to be the “Greenest Government Ever”.

Now, the Green Deal isn’t perfect and privately many across the building sector (and many MPs) will express deep reservations.  I specifically recall one former MP telling me that even a slight move in interest rates in a northward direction will turn the scheme from a ‘Pay As You Save’ scheme into a ‘Pay As You Pay’ scheme.

The point is, this has the potential to be the latest gap between PR and policy, what the American writer Walter Lippmann would have called a ‘credibility gap’ where rhetoric fails to match reality.  Whilst I do not expect the Green Deal’s demise to bring down the Coalition, the yawning gaps that keep appearing all have a corrosive effect and can perhaps explain Labour’s current position in the polls.