Government comes out to bat for Murdoch

The cross-party consensus on phone-hacking threatened to fall apart completely today after William Hague went out of his way to praise Rupert Murdoch.

The comment comes after the Commons media committee split largely along party lines in its report into whether parliament had been misled by News International.

"What I would say about him – and actually all newspaper proprietors who have this difficult relationship with politicians – I don’t think I’ve ever liked or disliked these proprietors they are just people you have to deal with," the foreign secretary told BBC Radio 5 Live.

"They are great business people, let us be clear about that. Of course, people who run big businesses around the world are very capable people and they all have their charming ways, and they all have their downsides as well.

"It is for Ofcom to investigate whether a broadcast license holder is a fit or proper person."

Yesterday's media committee report descended into farce when Labour and Conservative members attacked each other in front of the assembled ranks of the press.

All members supported the clauses in the report which found senior News International executives and editors misled parliament and they also agreed it was "astonishing" Rupert and

James Murdoch failed to see beyond the 'one rogue reporter' defence the corporation used to defend itself.

But Labour members went one step further and branded Rupert Murdoch "unfit" to run a major multinational company – the specific phrase used by Ofcom in its deliberations on whether News Corp should be allowed to keep its remaining stake in BSkyB.

The Tory members claim the "unfit" conclusion was added at the last minute as an ambush, while Labour claims it was discussed at length throughout the deliberation process.

Speaking on the Today programme this morning, Labour member Paul Farrelly said claims from Tory member Louise Mensch that the amendment was added at the last minute were "wrong".

Many Westminster commentators believed the Labour members of the committee, especially Tom Watson, had gone too far and threatened to influence the deliberations of an independent regulator. But across the Atlantic, the "unfit" description led the news bulletins, ratcheting up the pressure on the media mogul.

The vicious infighting which has beset the Commons report reflects the party-political tug of war which surrounds the Jeremy Hunt scandal, triggered by the disclosure of emails which heavily suggest he was biased while he had responsibility for News Corp's BSkyB bid.