James Murdoch, the deputy chief operating officer of News International, the British-based subsidiary of his father Rupert Murdoch’s News Corporation, appeared before the same parliamentary committee on Thursday as he had back in July. Then, both father and son had testified before the culture, media and sport select committee and said they extended their deepest apologies to the family of Milly Dowler, the 13-year-old British girl whose voicemail was hacked by the now-defunct News of the World‘s staff. The Murdochs insisted then that they simply hadn’t been aware that phone-hacking was widespread; that anyone besides a single “rogue reporter” was engaged in such illegal practices.
James Murdoch’s Testimony “Disingenuous At Best”
This time, Murdoch’s younger son appeared alone and relied on quite the same tactic, calmly and repeatedly avowing that, in 2008, he had not been told about the emails, letters and other evidence that revealed the phone hacking was widespread at the NoW. He openly refuted the testimony of two former NoW executives, former editor Colin Myler and Tom Crone, the NoW‘s legal manager; Murdoch went so far as to say that their testimony was “misleading.”
Myler and Crone have said that they had shown Murdoch a crucial email marked “for Neville” –a reference to a senior NoW reporter, Neville Thurlsbeck — that contained a transcript of a phone conversation acquired via phone hacking. Myler and Crone have said they presented Murdoch with the email in regard to a phone hacking suit brought against News International by Gordon Taylor, the chief executive of the Professional Footballers’ Association. News International ended up paying Taylor more than £450,000 ($725,000) and legal fees exceeding $322,000; the payment was authorized by James Murdoch. A June 3, 2008, memo has also emerged from News International’s legal counsel Michael Silverleaf that warned executives about a “culture of illegal information access.”
On Thursday, Murdoch insisted that “no documents were shown to me or given to me” in 2008, as well as that he had not misled the parliamentary committee back in July.
Response to Murdoch’s Testimony
Jack Irvine, a former News International executive, said simply that Murdoch should “fall on his sword” and that his testimony is proof that he is simply not “competent” to run the company:
“One of my old Sun colleagues was saying he wished Murdoch had been in charge when he was there so he could stroll in and ask him sign a cheque for £300,000 and not ask what it was for,” say Irvine.
If Murdoch’s statements are true, he would indeed seem to be lacking as an executive. As Roy Greenslade writes in regard to Murdoch’s saying that he did not inquire deeply into the reasons for the £450,000 payment to Taylor,
What kind of company boss is that fails to show any curiosity about a massive payment in controversial circumstances? A deceitful one or an incompetent one?
Afterwards, Crone issued a statement saying that Murdoch had been “disingenuous at best” and that his former boss had gone out of his way to “discredit” Myler and himself.
It is regrettable, but I can perfectly understand why James Murdoch felt the need to discredit Colin Myler and myself.
“The simple truth is that he was told by us in 2008 about the damning email and what it meant in terms of wider News of the World involvement.
“It seems he now accepts he was told of the email, of the fact that it contained transcripts of voicemail interceptions and that those interceptions were authorised by the News of the World.
“Perhaps Mr Murdoch could explain who he thought was doing the authorising at the News of the World?”
Murdoch reportedly appeared confident and did not lose his cool, even when Labour MP Tom Watson suggested that News International had adopted a Mafiaesque omertà or “code of silence”; Murdoch replied that such language was “offensive and not true.” Watson then said “You must be the first mafia boss in history who didn’t know he was running a criminal enterprise.”
Arrest of Reporter From The Sun
In regard to the recent arrest of Jamie Pyatt, a reporter at The Sun over allegations of payments to police, Murdoch “refused to rule out closing” the paper if it should emerge that journalists engaged in illegal activities. The Sun is the UK’s largest newspaper and is also owned by News International.
So far, the hacking scandal has led to the arrest of 16 former employees of NoW and the resignation of top executives, including Les Hinton, publisher of The Wall Street Journal and chief executive of Dow Jones. The scandal ended News Corp.’s $12 billion bid to take over the satellite giant British Sky Broadcasting and has seriously undermined the support of James Murdoch from News Corp. shareholders. But after James Murdoch’s testimony on Thursday, News Corp.’s share price rose 1.4 percent in trading in the US to $17.19 — up from its August 8 low of $14.01 as the scandal made daily headlines — and the company has continued to post a profit.
Whether that will continue seems up for grabs as revelations about illegal activities conducted by NoW staff continue. James Murdoch was also in charge when private investigators hired by NoW covertly followed two lawyers representing alleged victims of phone hacking including Mark Lewis, the lawyer for Milly Dowler and her family. Lewis says that NoW private eye Derek Webb covertly followed him and also filmed members of his family, including his teenage daughter, while they were on a shopping trip. As Lewis said to Sky News,
“There were groans of it being mafia-like, but as far as I’m concerned, as far as my family are concerned, it’s very like the mafia. If there were groans, they are probably from the mafia saying ‘we’re not as bad as that’.”
In light of Lewis’ comment, Labour MP Tom Watson’s comparison of News Corp. seems not so offensive after all.
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