News Corp boss James Murdoch faced up to his second UK parliamentary committee into the News of the World phone hacking scandal, denying that he had misled the committee previously and questioning evidence given by his former executives.
The major point in contention for the Commons culture, media and sport select committee was the “for Neville” email, an email sent to private investigator Glenn Mulcaire in 2008 by a junior staffer. It contained the transcripts of hacked voicemail and the “for Neville” part supposedly indicated former chief report Neville Thurlbeck, though he’s denied being involved in hacking. The email apparently proves that voice-mail hacking wasn’t only limited to former royal reporter Clive Goodman, as the paper had insisted.
News’ former legal advisor Tom Crone and NotW editor Colin Myler both told parliamentary commitees that Murdoch knew about the email when agreeing to pay compensation settlements to hacking victims. Murdoch admitted that he knew the email existed but had no idea exactly what it contained.
Murdoch claimed that Crone and Myler misled the parliamentary committee during a grilling by Tom Watson, the UK MP who has doggedly pursued the News of the World phone hacking allegation:
Watson: Did you mislead this committee?
Murdoch: No I did not.
Watson: If you didn’t who did?
Murdoch: I believe this committee was given [evidence] by people without full possession of the facts or…it was economical. My own testimony has been consistent. I testify to this committee with as much clarity and transparency as I can.
Watson: Was it Mr Crone [who misled the committee?]
Murdoch: I thought it was inconsistent and …
Watson: So you agree he misled the committee?
Murdoch: It follows that I do. I believe their testimony was misleading and I dispute it.
Immediately afterwards Tom Crone released a statement rebutting claims he misled the parliament:
“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.”
Myler said the same thing:
“My evidence to the select committee has been entirely accurate and consistent. I stand by my account of the meeting with James Murdoch on 10 June 2008.”
Watson continued to push Murdoch, alleging that News International operated like the Mafia. The Daily Mail offers the best rundown of the dispute:
Watson: Are you familiar with the term Mafia?
Murdoch: Yes Mr Watson.
Watson: Have you heard the term omerta [the Mafia code of silence]?
Murdoch: I’m not an aficionado about such matters.
Watson: Would you agree with me that this is an accurate description of News International?
Murdoch: Frankly that’s offensive and not true.
Watson: You must be the first Mafia boss in history who didn’t know he was running a criminal enterprise.
There were sharp intakes of breath at the suggestion and one committee member sighed: “Oh Tom.”
Reacting with anger, Mr Murdoch described the question as ‘inappropriate’ and refused to continue to speak with the MP.”
It seems the Murdoch family decided “humble” would be their buzzword during these parliamentary interrogations (think back to Rupert’s “this is the most humble day of my life”), with James declaring that the phone hacking allegations had humbled the company: “We are all humbled by it … it is something that we are very sorry about.”
Murdoch blamed managers beneath him for failing to act properly and inform him of events. “Senior management rely on executives to behave in a certain way,” he said. “We have to rely on those executives, otherwise it’s impossible to manage every single detail in a company of this scale.”
Murdoch put the responsibility for the Goodman settlement on former News executive Les Hinton: “It was seen as a matter in the past, accountability had been delivered…there was no prompt or reason to revisit a settlement matter that was well within Mr Hinton’s authority to make a judgment on.”
It was a humiliating day for Murdoch and won’t help his future career prospects at News, says Ian Burrell in The Independent:
“It was hard to look on James Murdoch, as he gave evidence to MPs today, and think that he was a future chairman or chief executive of the News Corporation empire which his father famously built.
So desperate was he to deflect questions about his knowledge of phone hacking — as Tom Watson MP likened him to a Don Corleone figure — that he could not help but appear like an incompetent manager. So incompetent in fact, that it is hard to think that shareholders of BSkyB will be rushing to endorse his continuation as chairman when the satellite broadcaster holds its annual general meeting later this month.”
Dan Sabbagh in The Guardian agreed, but noted that Murdoch was “cool under fire”:
“James Murdoch survived today’s select committee hearing — but not without damage to his reputation. The News Corp heir apparent was consistent in his evidence; he was not tripped up and there can be no suggestion that he misled parliament.”
There are now 5800 suspected hacking victims, 2000 more than previously thought.