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Rediff.com  » News » Hacking row: UK lawmakers grill Murdoch Jr; call him mafia boss

Hacking row: UK lawmakers grill Murdoch Jr; call him mafia boss

November 10, 2011 21:25 IST
Under fire on the raging phone-hacking issue, News International chairman James Murdoch on Thursday insisted that he had been kept in the dark about the culture of criminality in the now-defunct News of the World, prompting a leading member of Parliament to label him a "mafia boss".

During sustained grilling by members of the culture, media and sport committee of the House of Commons, telecast live, Labour MP Tom Watson suggested that News International functioned like a "mafia", a charge that Murdoch rejected.

As the embattled 38-year-old media baron stuck to his guns by accusing his former subordinates of keeping him in the dark and misleading parliament over the extent of phone-hacking, his testimony prompted offensive comments from the lawmakers investigating the scandal.

Watson, who has been in the forefront of highlighting phone-hacking at titles owned by News International, called him a "mafia boss" who was unaware of alleged "criminal" activities in his midst.

"You must be the first mafia boss in history who didn't think he was running a criminal enterprise," Watson remarked. Unlike his first appearance on July 19, Murdoch Jr faced skeptical and often hostile lawmakers.

"Any suspicion of widespread wrong doing, none of that was mentioned to me," Murdoch said in his deposition, taking almost the same stance that he did before in parliament in July, despite increasing evidence linking him to the raging controversy.

A stony-faced Murdoch called the comments inappropriate as he laid the blames squarely on the News of the World former editor Colin Myler and the News International former legal adviser Tom Crone.

Watson went into great detail about when Murdoch was made aware of phone-hacking and other illegal activities at the News of the World.

Murdoch apologised to Watson in the wake of latest revelations that he was one among many individuals who had been subjected to covert surveillance by a private investigator at the behest of the News of the World. As MPs questioned his judgment on various issues, he maintained his earlier line that phone hacking was a matter of regret and that if he knew then what he knows now, remedial action would have been taken.

The line of defence, however, found few takers in the committee, with Watson leading the way to probe him further on the minute of the meetings in which he, according to two senior former ex-employees (Colin Myler and Tom Crone), he was made aware of widespread illegal activities at the News of the World. Murdoch was stunned when Watson asked him if he was aware of the word "mafia".

Watson: Would you agree with me that it's an accurate description of News International in the UK?
Murdoch: Absolutely not, I think that's offensive.
Watson: You must be the first mafia boss in history who didn't know he was running a criminal enterprise.
Murdoch: Mr Watson, that's inappropriate.

Murdoch told the committee that he was not made aware that phone hacking went beyond one rogue reporter as far back as 2008. He had previously told MPs that he was not aware of the "for Neville" email when he signed off an out of court settlement for footballers union leader Gordon Taylor.

Murdoch said he had not been made aware of details suggesting phone hacking went beyond Clive Goodman -- the former News of the World royal reporter jailed in 2007 -- when he authorised a large out-of-court settlement to footballer's union leader Taylor in June 2008.

He said he was given "sufficient information to authorize the increase of the settlement offer" but "I was given no more than that". He said the document was never referred to as the "for Neville" email, and was not informed that it suggested evidence of widespread wrongdoing.

"The nature of the so-called 'For Neville' email...any wider spread or evidence or suspicion of wider spread of wrongdoing - none of these things were mentioned to me," he said.

Former editor Myler and former legal manager Crone had earlier issued a statement claiming they "did inform him" of the email in 2008 when he agreed to settle the Gordon Taylor case.

Murdoch was also asked about information supplied to the committee in October by solicitors Farrer and Co. In the document, lawyer Michael Silverleaf says there is "a powerful case that there is (or was) a culture of illegal information access used at NGN (News Group Newspapers) in order to produce stories for publication" and advises that a public trial would be "extremely damaging" to the company's reputation.

Murdoch said, "It was not shown to me at the time, nor was it described to me in those terms in any way." He insisted that it was "inappropriate" to call his company a "mafia" and said that while it was a "matter of great regret" that "things went wrong" at the newspaper, when evidence had come to light "we acted, I think with great zeal and diligence to get to the bottom of issues to improve the processes to make sure they didn't happen again".

He denied misleading the committee at a hearing in July, when he said he had not been aware of an email that contained transcripts of private voicemail messages revealing that footballers union leader Taylor's phone had been hacked. Murdoch told the committee, "I believe their evidence was misleading."

 

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