Murdoch attacked at hacking hearing

Updated: 2011-07-20 08:10

(China Daily)

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 Murdoch attacked at hacking hearing

Rupert Murdoch is driven down Whitehall in London on Tuesday before heading to the House of Commons and questioning about the News of the World phone-hacking scandal. Reuters / Parbul TV Via Reuters TV

 Murdoch attacked at hacking hearing

James and Rupert Murdoch appear before a parliamentary committee. Behind them, center, is Rupert Murdoch's wife, Wendi Deng.

Mogul denies responsibility for scandal, Reuters, China Daily report.

LONDON - The UK parliament committee hearing investigating the phone-hacking scandal was suspended briefly on Tuesday after Rupert Murdoch was attacked.

A man threw a plate of white shaving foam at Murdoch before being arrested.

Prior to the dramatic incident, Murdoch and his son James apologized to the British parliament for the phone-hacking scandal that has engulfed News Corp, but the veteran media mogul denied he was ultimately responsible for "this fiasco".

Murdoch senior said he had told the truth about the scandal at his now defunct News of the World newspaper but had been misled over the matter, and said he closed the paper because the company was ashamed of what had happened.

"This is the most humble day of my life," he said shortly before the hearing of the Culture, Media and Sport Select Committee of the House of Commons began.

Murdoch, 80, added that he had seen no evidence of hacking around victims of the Sept 11, 2001 attacks on the United States.

The scandal has rocked Britain's establishment right up to UK Prime Minister David Cameron.

With a second British police chief quitting over the scandal on Monday, Cameron cut short a trade trip to Africa and was due to return late on Tuesday to attend an emergency debate on Wednesday in Parliament, which is delaying its summer recess.

Murdoch attacked at hacking hearing

The Murdochs' appearance before Parliament's media select committee attracted millions of television viewers keen to follow the latest twist in a saga that has shaken Britons' faith in their police, press and political leaders.

"That's not surprising, as it's the first time Rupert Murdoch has been before a select committee in his 40 years of building up a media empire," said Paul Farrelly, an opposition Labor committee member.

Murdoch's British arm, News International, had long maintained that the practice of intercepting mobile phone voicemails to get stories was the work of a sole "rogue reporter" on the News of the World newspaper.

That defense crumbled in the face of a steady drip-feed of claims by celebrities that they were targeted.

The floodgates opened two weeks ago when a lawyer for the family of a murdered teenage schoolgirl said the paper had hacked her phone when she was missing, deleting messages and raising false hopes she could be still alive. The ensuing outrage prompted News Corp to close the 168-year-old News of the World and drop a $12 billion plan to take full control of pay TV operator BSkyB, and saw the arrest of former News International Chief Executive Rebekah Brooks, a Murdoch protege.

Cameron has faced questions over his judgment in appointing former News of the World editor Andy Coulson as his communications chief, while London police chief Paul Stephenson and anti-terrorism head John Yates stepped down within 24 hours of each other over their links to a former deputy editor of the newspaper.

Survival at stake

Former Murdoch editor Bruce Guthrie, who worked for the company in Melbourne, said Murdoch faced a fundamental decision on the fate of the company he has built from an Australian newspaper business into a global media giant.

"What it boils down to it this: What is more important for Rupert - the survival of the company or the survival of the family's control of the company?" he said.

"If he really is bent on saying, 'I want this company remaining in the control of my family,' which would be James, I reckon he has to take a bullet for James."

A News Corp board member said the group's independent directors were fully behind Rupert Murdoch, 80. There has been talk in recent days that Chase Carey would be elevated from chief operating officer to take over from Murdoch as CEO, with Murdoch staying as chairman.

On Monday, Standard & Poor's said it might cut News Corp's credit rating from the current BBB+. It put the group's ratings on credit watch with negative implications, given the business and reputational risks associated with widening legal probes in Britain and pressure for an FBI investigation in the United States.

'No circus'

The parliamentary committee has been pursuing the phone-hacking allegations for more than four years, saying in a report in 2010 that it was inconceivable that managers did not know about the practice.

"We intend to be calm and forensic. There will be no circus, no playing to the gallery because we really need to get to the bottom of everything that has gone on," said Farrelly, a former journalist.

In another development, police said a man believed to be former News of the World journalist Sean Hoare was found dead at his home near London on Monday. A post-mortem was to take place on Tuesday.

It was Hoare who told The New York Times that phone hacking at the tabloid was far more extensive than the paper had acknowledged at the time. The former show business reporter also told the BBC he was asked by Coulson, who went on to work for the prime minister, to tap phones.


News International chairman James Murdoch, 40, said earlier this month that the News of the World "made statements to Parliament without being in full possession of the facts." He is certain to be questioned on that statement.

The Murdochs appeared late Tuesday night Beijing time, followed by a separate hearing for Brooks. Brooks, a former News of the World editor, resigned as News International chief executive on Friday and was arrested by police on Sunday on suspicion of corruption and intercepting communications. She was released on bail.

Cameron, who took office as prime minister in May 2010, is facing the worst crisis of his premiership as his decision to hire former News of the World editor Coulson as his communications chief comes back to haunt him.

Coulson quit the paper in 2007 when its royalty reporter was jailed for phone hacking. Coulson said he knew nothing of the practice but took responsibility.

Coulson resigned as Cameron's spokesman in January when the long-running scandal came back to life. He was arrested earlier this month and is also free on bail.

Few expect the prime minister to quit but he appears weakened as head of a deficit-cutting coalition and might find his room for maneuver limited.

Computer hackers turned the tables on the media group when some broke into the website of Rupert Murdoch's best-selling British tabloid, The Sun. They altered the front page to show a fake report about the media mogul's death.

Observers' views

In London and beyond, journalist associations say the saga has severely undermined public trust in the media.

Fiona Swarbrick, national organizer and public relations officer for the UK's National Union of Journalists, said people need to "turn a little attention" to "the way the media are owned in the country and whether the problems are from there, rather than the practice of individual journalists".

"Most journalists we come across are actually very keen to ethical ways and they got into journalism to make a difference," she said.

For Norman Bartlett, president of the London-based Chartered Institute of Journalists, founded in 1884, the police, politicians and the press "have got closer than they should have" in the drama. "If everyone declared their interests, then the scandal would not have taken place," he said.

In Beijing, Long Yan, a professor at Communication University of China, said Murdoch's toughest days are still ahead. "News Corp will possibly be dismantled."

The scandal's impact on Cameron's administration, meanwhile, will be limited, said Tian Dewen, an expert on UK studies at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences. First, he said, Cameron did not benefit from telephone hacking.

"Moreover, the malpractice of the News of the World has been years long, but the current PM of UK has just taken office. And the consensus that stability of the government is essential for the country to go through such a financially difficult time will also help Cameron."

This article was reported by Keith Weir of Reuters and China Daily's Zhang Haizhou, Cecily Liu and Justin Wan from London, and Wang Chenyan from Beijing.

(China Daily 07/20/2011 page1)


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