July 22, 2024

Murdochs Now Say They Will Appear Before Parliament

Earlier in the day, the Murdochs had sent letters to the panel, the Commons Culture Select Committee, refusing an invitation to appear.

The panel responded by escalating the issue, formally summoning them to testify. The panel said it had “made clear its view that all three should appear to account for the behavior of News International and for previous statements made to the committee in Parliament, now acknowledged to be false.”

Mr. Murdoch and his son agreed to testify shortly after the summonses were issued, putting off the question of whether, as American citizens, they could have been compelled to do so. Ms. Brooks, who is a British subject, said in a separate letter earlier Thursday that she would appear before the panel next Tuesday, though she warned that she might not be able to answer detailed questions.

The moves in Parliament coincided with an announcement by Scotland Yard that officers had arrested Neil Wallis, 60, a former editor of The News of the World, the Murdoch-owned tabloid at the heart of the phone hacking scandal. The crisis for Rupert Murdoch erupted early last week with news reports that The News of the World had ordered its investigators to break into the voice mail of Milly Dowler, a 13-year-old who had been abducted and was later found murdered. The Murdoch family shut down the 168-year-old Sunday newspaper after a final edition last weekend.

Rupert Murdoch said early Thursday that he was prepared to appear before a separate inquiry, led by a judge, that was announced by Prime Minister David Cameron on Wednesday. “Having done this, I would be happy to discuss with you how best to give evidence to your committee,” Mr. Murdoch said in a letter released by the committee.

By agreeing to testify, the Murdochs avoided possible parliamentary repercussions. Sir George Young, the leader of the House of Commons, said lawmakers could impose penalties — including imprisonment — if it ruled that people who refuse to testify were deemed to be in contempt of Parliament. But such measures had “not been used for some time,” he said.

“If a witness fails to attend when summoned, the committee reports the matter to the House, and it’s then for the House to decide what further action to take,” he told Parliament, referring to the House of Commons. “There hasn’t been a case of that kind for some considerable time. The House can order a witness to attend a committee. Apparently this hasn’t happened since 1920.”

Parliament’s summer recess is set to begin next Tuesday, and lawmakers would not normally return until Sept. 5.

Separately, the Federal Bureau of Investigation opened an investigation on Thursday into allegations that News Corporation journalists hacked into the phones of the Sept. 11 terror attacks, according to people briefed on the matter. They said the investigation was prompted by news coverage of the hacking scandal and by requests from American politicians.

The developments came after a day of high drama on Wednesday. Mr. Murdoch’s News Corporation stunned the British political establishment by abandoning — at least for now — its $12 billion bid to acquire the shares of British Sky Broadcasting, Britain’s leading satellite television operator, that it did not already own.

The deal was subject to regulatory review over, among other issues, News Corporation’s integrity. Politicians continued to press on Thursday for Mr. Murdoch to answer what Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg called “big questions” about his companies’ fitness to own British media outlets, which still include The Times of London, The Sunday Times and the top-selling Sun tabloid.

Pressure seemed to be mounting in particular on Ms. Brooks, the chief executive of News International, the British newspaper subsidiary of the News Corporation, who was editor of The News of the World at the time of the hacking. A separate lawsuit was filed this week alleging that phone a second episode of hacking took place while she was editor of The News of the World, as she was when a private investigator working for the newspaper allegedly helped journalists hack into the phone of Milly Dowler. Ms. Brooks has issued an apology to the Dowler family but said she was on vacation when the resulting article ran, and knew nothing about the hacking. 

Sarah Lyall reported from London, and Alan Cowell from Paris. Jo Becker and John F. Burns contributed reporting from London.

Article source: http://www.nytimes.com/2011/07/15/world/europe/15hacking.html?partner=rss&emc=rss

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