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Updated: July 19, 2011 14:25 IST

Murdochs, Brooks face questioning by MPs

AP
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British MPs will be questioning Rupert Murdoch, his son James and Rebekah Brooks, the former chief executive of Mr. Rupert Murdoch’s U.K. newspaper arm, on Tuesday over the phone hacking scandal.
AP British MPs will be questioning Rupert Murdoch, his son James and Rebekah Brooks, the former chief executive of Mr. Rupert Murdoch’s U.K. newspaper arm, on Tuesday over the phone hacking scandal.

Members of Parliament are to question Rupert Murdoch, his son James and Rebekah Brooks, the former chief executive of Mr. Rupert Murdoch’s U.K. newspaper arm, on Tuesday about the phone hacking scandal, which has spread from their media empire to the British Prime Minister’s office.

Prime Minister David Cameron also has called for an emergency session of Parliament on the scandal for Wednesday and cut short his visit to Africa to try to contain the widening crisis.

In a further twist, a former News of the World reporter who helped blow the whistle on the scandal was found dead on Monday in his home, but it was not believed to be suspicious.

Mr. Rupert Murdoch shut down the News of the World tabloid after it was accused of hacking into the voice mail of celebrities, politicians, other journalists and even murder victims.

On the eve of the televised Parliament hearing, News Corp. board member Thomas Perkins said Mr. Rupert Murdoch has the full support of the company’s board of directors. Mr. Perkins said the board is not considering elevating Chief Operating Officer Chase Carey to replace Mr. Rupert Murdoch as CEO.

In an interview with The Associated Press, Mr. Perkins denied a report that said that independent directors on Monday considered the company’s succession plan, including naming Mr. Carey as CEO.

The crisis has roiled the upper ranks of Britain’s police, with Monday’s resignation of Assistant Commissioner John Yates — Scotland Yard’s top anti-terrorist officer — following that on Sunday of police chief Paul Stephenson over their links to Neil Wallis, an arrested former executive from Mr. Rupert Murdoch’s shuttered News of the World tabloid whom police had employed as a media consultant.

The government quickly announced an inquiry into police-media relations and possible corruption.

Home Secretary Theresa May said that people were naturally asking “who polices the police,” and announced an inquiry into “instances of undue influence, inappropriate contractual arrangements and other abuses of power in police relationships with the media and other parties.”

The Independent Police Complaints Commission also said it was looking into the claims, including one that Mr. Yates inappropriately helped get a job for Mr. Wallis’ daughter. Mr. Wallis, former executive editor of News of the World, was arrested on suspicion of conspiring to intercept communications.

Mr. Yates said he had done nothing wrong.

“I have acted with complete integrity,” he said. “My conscience is clear.”

In another development, police confirmed that a second former News of the World employee was employed by Scotland Yard. Alex Marunchak had been employed as a Ukrainian language interpreter with access to highly sensitive police information between 1980 and 2000, the Metropolitan Police said.

Scotland Yard said it recognised “that this may cause concern and that some professions may be incompatible with the role of an interpreter,” adding that the matter will be looked into.

The Prime Minister is under heavy pressure after the resignations of Mr. Stephenson and Mr. Yates, and Sunday’s arrest of Ms. Brooks — a friend and neighbour whom he has met at least six times since entering office 14 months ago — on suspicion of hacking into the cell phones of newsmakers and bribing police for information.

Mr. Cameron’s critics grew louder in London as he visited South Africa on a two-day visit to the continent already cut short by the crisis. He dropped stops in Rwanda and South Sudan as his government faces growing questions about its cosy relationship with Mr. Rupert Murdoch’s media empire during a scandal that has taken down top police and media figures with breathtaking speed.

Parliament had been scheduled to break for the summer on Tuesday after lawmakers grilled Mr. Rupert Murdoch, his son Mr. James Murdoch and Ms. Brooks, in a highly anticipated public airing about the scandal. Mr. Cameron, however, said MPs should reconvene on Wednesday “so I can make a further statement.”

Mr. Cameron insisted his Conservative-led government had “taken very decisive action” by setting up a judge-led inquiry into the wrongdoing at Mr. Rupert Murdoch’s now-defunct tabloid News of the World and into the overall relations between British politicians, the media and police.

“We have helped to ensure a large and properly resourced police investigation that can get to the bottom of what happened, and wrongdoing, and we have pretty much demonstrated complete transparency in terms of media contact,” Mr. Cameron said.

Opposition leader Ed Miliband, however, said Mr. Cameron needed to answer “a whole series of questions” about his relationships with Ms. Brooks, Mr. James Murdoch and Andy Coulson, the former News of the World editor whom Mr. Cameron later hired as his communications chief. Mr. Coulson resigned that post in January and was arrested earlier this month in the scandal.

“At the moment, he seems unable to provide the leadership the country needs,” Mr. Miliband said of Mr. Cameron.

Mr. Rupert Murdoch, too, faces a major test on Tuesday in his bid to tame a scandal that has already destroyed the News of the World, prompted the resignations of Ms. Brooks and Wall Street Journal publisher Les Hinton, and sunk the media baron’s dream of taking full control of a lucrative satellite broadcaster, British Sky Broadcasting.

At the televised hearing, politicians will seek more details about the scale of criminality at the News of the World. The Murdochs will try to avoid incriminating themselves or doing more harm to their business without misleading Parliament, which is a crime.

Mr. Perkins, 79, who has been an independent News Corp. director since 1996 and is cofounder of Silicon Valley venture capital fund Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers, said a succession plan has long been in place given Mr. Rupert Murdoch’s age. But he said it had not been brought up in light of the recent revelations about phone hacking and alleged payments to British police.

“I can assure you, there has been no discussion at the board level in connection with this current scandal of making any changes. The board supports top management totally,” he said. “The board has been misled, as has top management been misled, by very bad people at a very low level in the organisation.”

Meanwhile, Internet hackers took aim at Mr. Rupert Murdoch late Monday, defacing the website of his other U.K. tabloid, The Sun, and shutting down The Times of London.

Visitors to The Sun website were redirected to a page featuring a story saying Mr. Rupert Murdoch’s dead body had been found in his garden.

Internet hacking collective Lulz Security took responsibility for that hacking attack via Twitter, calling it a successful part of “Murdoch Meltdown Monday.”

The group posted taunting messages on its Twitter account like “we have joy we have fun we have messed up murdoch’s sun.” It added what it claimed were details of hacked internal staff data from The Sun and eventually redirected the paper’s website to its own Twitter feed.

Lulz Security, which has previously claimed hacks on major entertainment companies, FBI partner organizations and the CIA, hinted that more was yet to come, saying “This is only the beginning.”

It later took credit for shutting down News International’s corporate website.

Another hacking collective known as Anonymous claimed the cyberattack on The Times’ website.

The website breaches came just hours ahead of Mr. Rupert Murdoch’s testimony to British MPs and as Mr. James Murdoch — chairman of BSkyB and chief executive of his father’s European and Asian operations — appeared increasingly isolated following the departure of Brooks.

Mr. James Murdoch did not directly oversee the News of the World, but he approved payments to some of the paper’s most prominent hacking victims, including £700,000 ($1.1 million) to Professional Footballers’ Association chief Gordon Taylor.

Mr. James Murdoch said last week that he “did not have a complete picture” when he approved the payouts.

Mr. Rupert Murdoch is eager to stop the crisis from spreading to the United States, where many of his most lucrative assets — including the Fox TV network, 20th Century Fox film studio, The Wall Street Journal and the New York Post — are based.

News Corp. on Monday appointed commercial lawyer Anthony Grabiner to run its Management and Standards Committee, which will deal with the phone hacking scandal. It said the committee will cooperate with all investigations on hacking and alleged police payments, and carry out its own inquiries.

Meanwhile, one of the first voices to blow the whistle on the phone hacking — former News of the World journalist Sean Hoare — was found dead on Monday in Watford, about 40 km northwest of London. Police said the death was being treated as unexplained but was not considered suspicious, according to Britain’s Press Association.

Mr. Hoare was quoted by The New York Times saying that phone hacking was widely used and even encouraged at the News of the World under Mr. Coulson.

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