December 8, 2023

James Murdoch Denies Misleading Parliamentary Panel

“No, I did not,” Mr. Murdoch said after a committee member asked him if he had, in fact, given misleading evidence. Wearing a blue suit and sporting the red lapel poppy that many Britons wear to commemorate those who have fallen in battle, Mr. Murdoch seemed combative and self-assured, repeatedly denying that he had been given evidence of “wider spread phone hacking” at a crucial meeting in 2008.

At one point, a committee member, Tom Watson, compared the Murdoch media empire to a mafia family bound together by a vow of silence — omertà. Mr. Murdoch replied with a pained expression, calling the comparison inappropriate.

Mr. Murdoch was a deft witness in July when he appeared before the parliamentary committee investigating the phone hacking scandal that was riveting the country. Sitting alongside his 80-year-old father, along with family members and legal representatives at that time, he deflected lawmakers’ questions, maintaining that he had learned only recently how widespread the hacking problem really was.

On Thursday, he returned alone to Parliament to a more skeptical panel, faced with trying to defend himself against mounting evidence that he and top executives at News International, the company’s British newspaper arm, knew three years ago that hacking was not limited to a single rogue reporter jailed a year earlier, but was pervasive at The News of the World, the tabloid newspaper that the company shut down in July.

As the hearing began, and Mr. Murdoch was again invited to revisit his earlier testimony, he asked to comment about his father’s remark to the July hearing that he had been humbled by the affair. “I think the whole company is humbled,” James Murdoch replied, saying he was “very sorry” and adding that he wanted to ensure that such events “do not happen again.”

Much rides on how Mr. Murdoch, 38, handles the lawmakers’ questioning, including his personal credibility and the health of the News Corporation media empire. The hacking scandal has tarnished the corporation, rocked its stock price, cost it a $12 billion deal for the takeover of the satellite giant British Sky Broadcasting, and added to strains between Mr. Murdoch and his father. At least 16 former employees of The News of the World have been arrested, and a series of executives up the corporate ladder — including the publisher of The Wall Street Journal Europe, Les Hinton — resigned.

Beyond his own fate and that of his company, Mr. Murdoch’s answers may add to details to a scandal that has reached deep into British society, raising questions of intimate and self-serving ties linking the media, the political elite and the police.

The panel is now armed with recently released News of the World documents related to a case central to the doubts about Mr. Murdoch’s earlier testimony: that of Gordon Taylor, the chief executive of the Professional Footballers’ Association. In 2008, after Mr. Taylor claimed that his voice mail messages had been repeatedly hacked by the tabloid, Mr. Murdoch authorized News International to pay him more than £450,000 ($725,000) and legal fees exceeding $322,000.

Whether Mr. Murdoch knew the hacking accusations to be true is a central focus for the panel as it seeks to determine whether his prior testimony misrepresented what he knew about illegal activities at News of the World and when he knew it.

In his July testimony, Mr. Murdoch maintained that the episode had done nothing to alter his understanding that a single reporter, Clive Goodman, the former royal reporter at The News of the World, had engaged in phone hacking in 2007.

On Thursday, he said that “no documents were shown to me or given to me” at a crucial meeting in 2008, but he was given “sufficient information” to authorize an increase in the payment to Mr. Taylor.

“The meeting, which I remember quite well, was a short meeting, and I was given at that meeting sufficient information to authorize the increase of the settlement offers that had been made,” he said. “But I was given no more than that.”Regarding the settlement, Mr. Murdoch said in July that he had been given an oral briefing on the case and “did not get involved directly” in the negotiations. He denied that the settlement was motivated by a desire to keep the matter from becoming public, but rather a pragmatic one, meant to avoid damages and legal costs from a judgment at trial. He declined to discuss releasing Mr. Taylor from the agreement’s confidentiality clause.

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New Hacking Case Outrages Britain

The tabloid at the center of the scandal, The News of the World, had championed the campaign of the grieving mother, Sara Payne, for a law warning parents if child sex offenders lived nearby. Mrs. Payne, who was paralyzed by a stroke in recent years, had written warmly of the paper in its final edition, calling it “an old friend.”

A statement released on behalf of Mrs. Payne by the Phoenix Foundation, a children’s charity she founded, described her as devastated and disappointed. “Today is a very sad dark day for us,” the charity added in a posting on Facebook. “Our faith in good people has taken a real battering.” The page noted that she was struggling in the wake of the July 1 anniversary of her daughter’s abduction.

British news channels, which had been growing weary of the scandal — into a fourth week of cascading revelations that have shaken the media, political elite and police — broke into their scheduled reports to report the allegations that Ms. Payne had been hacked.

“Forgive me if I sound cynical,” said one member of parliament, Tom Watson, who has led investigations into hacking, “but I don’t know where it is going to end.”

 “The last edition of The News of the World made great play of the paper’s relationship with the Payne family,” he noted, saying, “I have nothing but contempt for the people that did this.”

The Guardian was the first to report Scotland Yard’s alert to Mrs. Payne, but the e-mail newsletter Popbitch suggested earlier this month that Mrs. Payne’s voice mail had been hacked and that the phone in question may have been provided to her by the onetime editor of The News of the World, Rebekah Brooks, as part of the campaign for the law.

In a statement, Ms. Brooks confirmed that The News of the World had provided Mrs. Payne with a cellphone “for the last 11 years,” but that “it was not a personal gift.” She said she found the allegations that Mrs. Payne’s voice mail had been hacked “abhorrent and particularly upsetting as Sara Payne is a dear friend.”

When Ms. Brooks, who has been forced to step down from News International, the British arm of Rubert Murdoch’s News Corporation and owner of The News of the World, recently testified before Parliament, she cited the successful campaign for Mrs. Payne’s law as evidence of the good she had done at the tabloid’s helm. A spokeswoman for News International said the company had no immediate comment.

Scotland Yard officers told Mrs. Payne that her name was on a list of about 4,000 targets held by the private investigator Glenn Mulcaire, according to the Phoenix Foundation statement. Mr. Mulcaire, who was convicted on hacking charges related to the paper five years ago, had an exclusive contract with the tabloid.

The hacking scandal had been smoldering for years, but ignited in recent weeks following assertions that hacking on behalf of The News of the World had interfered with the investigation into the 2006 murder of a 13-year-old girl, Milly Dowler. The man eventually convicted of her killing committed two more murders before he was caught.

Also on Thursday, the British judge leading the inquiry into the scandal held a news conference in central London, saying that the panel planned to hold its first public hearings in September and that it would have the power to compel witnesses to testify.

The inquiry will be in two parts. The first will focus on press regulation and the relationship between the press and the public, said the judge, Lord Justice Leveson. The second, which will begin after the police investigation is finished, will focus on specific allegations of phone hacking and other journalistic malfeasance in the wake of the scandal, which has spread through British media but which has most strongly shaken Mr. Murdoch’s media empire.

Justice Leveson was appointed by Prime Minister David Cameron after it became clear that hacking at The News of the World extended not only to public figures like celebrities and politicians, but also to Milly Dowler and the families of those killed in terrorist attacks. Mr. Cameron, a Conservative, initially resisted setting up an immediate inquiry, but changed his mind in response to widespread public disgust and growing political pressure from the opposition Labour Party.

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