Accompanied by his son James Murdoch (News Corp deputy COO), News Corp. CEO Rupert Murdoch arrived for questioning at the House of Commons for an appearance before a committee of Members of Parliament. Rupert was forced (7/19) to submit to cross-questioning from a dozen members of Parliament. He sparred with a committee of lawmakers over the phone-hacking scandal, reeling from tough questioning before recovering his composure and pushing back with firm denials of wrongdoing. He even banged his hands on the table and said the day was the “most humble of my life,” becoming flustered when committee members peppered with him questions and turning to his son James for some answers.
Murdoch said he was shocked, appalled and ashamed at the hacking of the phone of Milly Dowler (the missing teen who ended up murdered) by his now-shuttered News of the World. He also said he had seen no evidence that victims of the 9/11 terror attack and their relatives were targeted by any of his papers. He told the committee that he didn’t believe the FBI had uncovered any evidence of hacking 9/11 victims in the recently-launched inquiry.
Murdoch said he was not responsible for the hacking scandal, and his company was not guilty of “willful blindness.” He repeatedly batted away questions about ops at the News of the World by saying he wasn’t really in touch with the tabloid or didn’t know what was going on there. He said he lost sight of News of the World because it’s such a small part of his company and spoke to the editor of the paper only around once a month, talking more with the editor of the Sunday Times in Britain and the Wall Street Journal in the US. He says the News of the World “is less than 1 percent” of his News Corp., which employs 53,000 people.
James Murdoch apologized for the scandal, telling British lawmakers that “these actions do not live up to the standards our company aspires to.” He said the company acted as swiftly and transparently as possible. Rupert acknowledged, however, that he did not investigate after the Murdochs’ former U.K. newspaper chief, Rebekah Brooks, told parliament years ago that the News of the World had paid police officers for information.
Asked by lawmakers why there was no investigation, he said: “I didn’t know of it.”
Murdoch also said he was not informed that his company had paid out big sums $1.1 million in one case — to settle lawsuits by phone hacking victims.
James Murdoch said his father became aware of the settlement “in 2009 after a newspaper report. It was a confidential settlement. “
Rupert Murdoch’s wife Wendi Deng and News Corp. executive Joel Klein, who is overseeing an internal investigation into the wrongdoing, sat behind him as he spoke.
Like we had emphasized in our observation, Rupert denied that the closure of the News of the World was motivated by financial considerations, saying he shut it because of the criminal allegations.
Rupert’s wife, Wendi Deng, and former NYC schools chancellor Joel Klein, who is currently an executive VP at News Corp. and a key player in investigating the phone hacking scandal internally, were seated behind them.
Earlier Rebekah Brooks, dressed in a black suit, also entered the House of Commons for an evidence session directly following the Murdochs. Brooks was released on bail by police on Sunday after being arrested and facing 12 hours of questioning. A laptop computer, phone and documents that were found in a dumpster close to her home last night are also being examined by police officers.
Politicians also pushed for details about the Murdochs’ ties to Prime Minister David Cameron and other members of the British political establishment. In a separate hearing, lawmakers questioned London police about reports that officers took bribes from journalists to provide inside information for tabloid scoops and to ask why the force decided to shut down an earlier phone hacking probe after charging only two people. Both Cameron and Opposition leader Ed Milliband have distanced themselves with the Murdoch name. Cameron, a close friend of Brooks and her husband, is under pressure himself for the extent of his involvement with former News of The World Editor Andy Coulson, who was his personal spokesman before the phone-hacking scandal forced Coulson to resign. Coulson was bailed after being arrested last week.
Full text of a prepared statement by Rupert Murdoch:
“Mr. Chairman. Select Committee Members:
“With your permission, I would like to read a short statement.
“My son and I have come here with great respect for all of you, for Parliament and for the people of Britain whom you represent.
“This is the most humble day of my career.
“After all that has happened, I know we need to be here today.
“Before going further, James and I would like to say how sorry we are for what has happened especially with regard to listening to the voicemail of victims of crime.
“My company has 52,000 employees. I have led it for 57 years and I have made my share of mistakes. I have lived in many countries, employed thousands of honest and hardworking journalists, owned nearly 200 newspapers and followed countless stories about people and families around the world.
“At no time do I remember being as sickened as when I heard what the Dowler family had to endure nor do I recall being as angry as when I was told that the News of the World could have compounded their distress. I want to thank the Dowlers for graciously giving me the opportunity to apologize in person.
“I would like all the victims of phone hacking to know how completely and deeply sorry I am. Apologizing cannot take back what has happened. Still, I want them to know the depth of my regret for the horrible invasions into their lives.
“I fully understand their ire. And I intend to work tirelessly to merit their forgiveness.
“I understand our responsibility to cooperate with today’s session as well as with future inquiries. We will respond to your questions to the best of our ability and follow up if we are not capable of answering anything today. Please remember that some facts and information are still being uncovered.
“We now know that things went badly wrong at the News of the World. For a newspaper that held others to account, it failed when it came to itself. The behavior that occurred went against everything that I stand for. It not only betrayed our readers and me, but also the many thousands of magnificent professionals in our other divisions around the world.
“So, let me be clear in saying: invading people’s privacy by listening to their voicemail is wrong. Paying police officers for information is wrong. They are inconsistent with our codes of conduct and neither has any place in any part of the company I run.
“But saying sorry is not enough. Things must be put right. No excuses. This is why News International is cooperating fully with the police whose job it is to see that justice is done. It is our duty not to prejudice the outcome of the legal process. I am sure the committee will understand this.
“I wish we had managed to see and fully solve these problems earlier. When two men were sent to prison in 2007, I thought this matter had been settled. The police ended their investigations and I was told that News International conducted an internal review. I am confident that when James later rejoined News Corporation he thought the case was closed too. These are subjects you will no doubt wish to explore today.
“This country has given me, our companies and our employees many opportunities. I am grateful for them. I hope our contribution to Britain will one day also be recognized.
“Above all, I hope that, through the process that is beginning with your questions today, we will come to understand the wrongs of the past, prevent them from happening again and, in the years ahead, restore the nation’s trust in our company and in all British journalism.
“I am committed to doing everything in my power to make this happen. Thank you. We are happy to answer your questions.”
RBR-TVBR observation: These hearings could determine the future of Murdochs’ family’s dominant role at News Corp. For James Murdoch, his evidence on admissions of approving payments to hacking victims may have a bearing on whether BSkyB’s independent shareholders bring pressure onto him to step down as BSkyB chairman.