Plenty at stake for hacking report

In a triumph of hope over experience, the Culture, Media and Sport Committee has set itself the target of completing its report into the phone hacking saga by the end of March.

The omens are not entirely promising. So far they're just three chapters into drafting what looks likely to be an eight-chapter report, with the select committee equivalent of trench warfare over every paragraph. The key battle is over the committee's conclusion about the veracity of the evidence given by James Murdoch - the (now) former chairman of News International.

And then there's the question of whether the leadership of the company can be considered fit and proper persons to be in charge of a TV company - an issue currently beyond the committee's horizon.

I'm told one MP has put down 166 amendments to the chair's draft of the report - and every nuance is fought out in the increasingly fractious private sessions in which the MPs on the committee attempt to finalise their conclusions. To be sure, matters are complicated by the steady stream of new information from court cases and evidence to the Leveson inquiry, but irritation levels are clearly reaching critical and the committee seems to be becoming more and more polarised.

Tory sources complain the Labour MPs are in thrall to their two in-house Murdoch experts, Tom Watson and Paul Farrelly; while Labour sources mutter darkly about the Conservatives being mesmerised by a News International briefing operation.

And the Commons hierarchy is clearly worried that the outcome could be a report which either by being too soft or by going beyond what the evidence justifies, damages the new and hard won credibility of the select committee system.

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