Media baron says hacking shameful, but refuses to take responsibility
Amid high drama that included an attempt by a comedian to attack him with a plastic plate loaded with shaving foam, Rupert Murdoch on Tuesday told MPs that until recently he had no knowledge of the phone hacking scandal at the News of the World (NoW) and was let down by “people I trusted.”
Mr. Murdoch's appearance at the House of Commons Media Committee descended into chaos when a man, later identified as a comedian, lunged towards him and shouted “greedy.” He was intercepted by a group of people, including Mr. Murdoch's wife Wendi, and taken away.
The incident happened towards the end of the two-hour hearing.
Earlier in his testimony, Mr. Murdoch said he was “absolutely shocked, appalled and ashamed” that NoW journalists had been involved in hacking the phone of the murdered schoolgirl, Milly Dowler.
This was also the line taken by his son James Murdoch, chairman of his British media group News International, and its former chief executive, Rebekah Brooks, who said the first time she heard that Milly Dowler's phone was hacked was two weeks ago.
All three offered profuse apologies for what happened and described NoW's actions as “shameful” and “inexcusable” but denied that there was any cover-up.
Ms. Brooks, who was NoW's Editor during the period to which many of the hacking allegations relate, acknowledged that the newspaper used private detectives to dig up stories but claimed at the time it was a “common practice in Fleet Street.” She also admitted that payments were made to police for information but said she never personally made any payments and was not aware of any specific payments.
Mr. Murdoch said he got to know about the practices at NoW only earlier this year when News International discovered new evidence and started investigating.
Was he “misled” about what was going on in his company? Mr. Murdoch was asked.
“Clearly, yes,” he said.
In reply to a pointed question whether he felt responsible for the “fiasco,” he said: “No.”
Mr. Murdoch argued that he ran a global business of 53,000 people and NoW was “just 1%” of this and that was perhaps a reason why “I lost sight of it.”
Asked who he thought was responsible for what went on at NoW, he said: “The people I trusted to run it and maybe the people they trusted.”
Looking frail and nervous at times, the 80-year-old media mogul answered mostly in monosyllables asking frequently for questions to be repeated. His answers were often punctuated with long pauses. Sitting behind him, his wife and his daughter Elisabeth watched as Mr. Murdoch and his son took turns fielding questions.
James often appeared irritated at the line of questioning and repeatedly tried to intervene on behalf his father. He looked particularly annoyed when Murdoch Senior was questioned about his visit to 10 Downing Street soon after David Cameron became Prime Minister last year.
Mr. Murdoch said he was invited for a “cup of tea” to thank him for his support for the Conservatives. He confirmed that he was asked to enter through the “backdoor.” Asked why, he said: “I don't know. I was asked to.”
When the question was repeated, James retorted that his father was not aware of the logistic of receiving guests at Downing Street.
James repeatedly apologised to the victims of phone hacking. He said the company failed to live up to “the standards they aspired to” and was “determined to put things right and make sure they do not happen again.”
Both Rupert and James said there was no evidence that phones of victims of 9/11 were hacked.