Media magnate issues an unprecedented signed public apology for the phone hacking scandal

After days of defiant denials, it was a “day of atonement,” in the words of one of his own newspapers, as Rupert Murdoch on Saturday issued an unprecedented signed public apology for the phone hacking scandal.

In another belated gesture of contrition, the embattled media magnate met the family of Milly Dowler, the murdered schoolgirl, whose phone was hacked by a detective for the News of the World (NoW). It was the disclosure of the “Dowler case” by Guardian 10 days ago that revealed the scale of illegal newsgathering practices at the defunct NoW, sparking the fury that has brought the Murdoch empire to its knees.

The meeting with the Dowler family on Friday evening was described as “highly emotional.” Mr. Murdoch was said to have “held his head” several times in shame and disbelief.

“He apologised many times. I don't think anybody could have held his head in his hands so many times,” said the Dowler family's lawyer Mark Lewis.

Amid shouts from protesters as he emerged from the meeting at a London hotel, Mr. Murdoch said it was a “private meeting.” Asked whether he had apologised, he said: “Of course, I have.”

“Serious wrongdoing”

Barely 24 hours after insisting that only “minor mistakes” were made in handling the crisis, Mr. Murdoch's British media group, the News International (NI), took out a full-page advertisement in national newspapers admitting “serious wrongdoing” and regretting “not acting faster to sort things out.”

The apology, headed “We are Sorry” and signed by Mr. Murdoch, said the “News of the World was in the business of holding others to account” but “it failed when it came to itself.” Heavily punctuated with expressions of regret and admissions of wrongdoing, the advertisement said the company was “deeply sorry for the hurt suffered by the individuals affected.”

At one point, dispensing with the corporate “we” and striking a personal note, Mr. Murdoch wrote: “I realise that simply apologising is not enough. Our business was founded on the idea that a free and open press should be a positive force in society. We need to live up to this. In the coming days, as we take further concrete steps to resolve these issues and make amends for the damage they have caused, you will hear more from us.”

The string of apologies came ahead of Mr. Murdoch's much-anticipated appearance before the House of Commons media committee on Tuesday to answer questions about the scandal. His son James, chairman of NI, and Rebekah Brooks, its former chief executive, would also give evidence. Ms. Brooks was forced to resign on Friday after investors warned that her continued presence was becoming a liability for the company.

Crisis spreading

The crisis appeared to be spreading to his American business group News Corporation. In a surprise development, one of its top executives Les Hinton, described as Mr. Murdoch's “right-hand man,” resigned expressing his “sorrow” at the “News of the World saga.”

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