Thursday, April 26, 2012

Murdoch admits 'cover-up' at News of the World

LONDON: Rupert Murdoch admitted Thursday there was a "cover-up" over phone hacking at Britain's News of the World tabloid but insisted he and other executives at his media empire were kept in the dark.

In his second day as star witness at a press ethics inquiry in London, the News Corp. boss said he had "failed" by not sooner ordering an internal investigation into the scale of wrongdoing at the paper.

"There's no question in my mind that, maybe even the editor but certainly beyond that, someone took charge of a cover-up which we were victim to, and I regret that," the 81-year-old told the Leveson Inquiry.

"I think the senior executives were all... misinformed and shielded from anything that was going on there. And I do blame one or two people for that, whom perhaps I shouldn't name because for all I know they may be arrested yet."

The News of the World's royal editor and a private investigator were jailed in 2007 for phone hacking but the industrial level of the practice at the paper did not emerge until a new police probe was launched in January 2011.

Pressed by the judge leading the inquiry, Brian Leveson, about why he did not take further action over allegations against one of his biggest-selling newspapers, Murdoch added: "I also have to say that I failed."

"It's going to be a blot on my reputation for the rest of my life," he said.

The scandal fully erupted in July last year when it emerged the News of the World had accessed the mobile phone voicemail messages of Milly Dowler, a murdered British schoolgirl, sparking public outrage.

Murdoch shut the Sunday tabloid when advertisers boycotted it and Prime Minister David Cameron set up the Leveson Inquiry to probe the ethics of the press and its relations with politicians and police.

Asked why he closed it so suddenly, Murdoch replied: "I panicked. But I am glad I did". He said he should have closed it "years ago" and replaced it with a Sunday version of the Sun daily tabloid, as he did this year.

When pressed where the cover-up originated, the Australian-born tycoon said it was "from within the News of the World."

"There were one or two very strong characters there who I think had been there many, many, many years and were friends of the journalists," he said.

"The person I'm thinking of was a friend of the journalists, a drinking pal and a clever lawyer... this person forbade people to go and report to Mrs Brooks or to James."

Former News of the World editor Rebekah Brooks resigned as chief executive of Murdoch's British newspaper wing when the hacking scandal erupted in July last year, while Murdoch's son James resigned as its chairman in February.

Murdoch said he had since spent heavily on a clean-up at New York-based News Corp. which involved trawling through 300 million emails, of which two million received closer scrutiny.

He insisted the firm had also looked at Murdoch's US and Australian newspapers and found no evidence of wrongdoing.

Murdoch further denied that he had ever discussed News Corp.'s bid for full control of British satellite broadcaster BSkyB with British culture minister Jeremy Hunt.

Hunt's special adviser, Adam Smith, resigned on Wednesday over claims that he leaked details to a News Corp. lobbyist about the government's view of its takeover attempt.

Murdoch abandoned the BSkyB bid when the hacking scandal blew up.

In the first day of his long-awaited testimony on Wednesday, Murdoch denied that he had exerted a decades-long stranglehold over British politics, saying: "I've never asked a prime minister for anything."

He also denied discussing the controversial BSkyB deal with Cameron.

Murdoch still owns The Sun -- Britain's biggest-selling newspaper -- The Times and Sunday Times in Britain and the Wall Street Journal and New York Post in the United States.

News Corp. has paid out millions of pounds in compensation to hacking victims and more than 40 people have been arrested over hacking and alleged bribery of public officials by staff at the News of the World and The Sun.


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