Murdoch Defends Himself in Parliament

Tuesday, 19 Jul 2011 08:03 PM

By Martin Gould

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Media mogul Rupert Murdoch was physically attacked as he was giving evidence before a British Parliament committee on Tuesday. Murdoch’s wife, Wendi, who was sitting behind him, slapped the man, whom police arrested immediately.

Murdoch’s son James, who was sitting at his side, also tried to protect the 80-year-old businessman, who appeared unharmed when a man pushed a plate of shaving cream into his face.

Committee Chairman John Whittingdale temporarily suspended the hearing, which had been running for nearly two and a half hours.

Louise Mensch, the last MP scheduled to ask questions, had just started her first question when the man, who allegedly goes by the name Jonnie Marbles, jumped from the audience.

TV pictures showed him push a plate of shaving cream into Murdoch’s face, shouting, “You are a greedy billionaire.”

The hearing was suspended for 10 minutes before Murdoch returned without his jacket.

After the attack, Mensch asked the elder Murdoch whether he had considered resigning as a result of the phone hacking “fiasco” that has led to the closure of his best-selling British tabloid the News of the World, the arrest of 10 people, the resignation of several News Corp. executives and two of London’s top police officers, and now threatens to bring down British Prime Minister David Cameron.

“No,” replied Murdoch. “People I trusted let me down. They behaved disgracefully and it’s for them to pay. I’m the best person to clean this up.”

Before the attack, Murdoch insisted he should not be held responsible for the phone hacking scandal that is threatening his hold on his worldwide empire, saying the blame led with people well under him in his News Corp. business.

“It was people I trusted and ultimately people they trusted,” he said.

Murdoch appeared combative at times during his evidence before the Culture, Media and Sport Committee, often slapping his hand against the table. At other times he seemed frail and confused and appeared to have difficulty answering.

James often interrupted questions from members of Parliament in an apparent attempt to protect his father.

Rupert Murdoch started his evidence by telling the committee, “This is the most humble day of my life.”

He painted a picture of having a hands-off management style, especially when it came to the News of the World, which, he said, made up less than 1 percent of his worldwide business.

He said he was never told of payments of up to $1 million to victims of phone hacking, including Gordon Taylor, the head of the English soccer players’ union, even though he admitted having regular Saturday night talks with the editor of the News of the World.

“I’m not really in touch,” Murdoch said. “I cannot tell you the multitude of issues I’m involved in. The News of the World, perhaps I lost sight of, maybe because it was so small.”

Conservative MP Philip Davies appeared incredulous when Murdoch said he spoke to the editor but was never told about the payments. “So what would you discuss,” Davies said.

“I’d say ‘What’s doing?’” replied Murdoch.

James Murdoch said he had no knowledge that phones of the families of 9/11victims had been hacked. “Those are incredibly serious allegations,” he said. “It is just appalling to think that anyone associated with any of our papers would do anything like that.”

Some of the most damaging evidence could become the revelation that News International, the British arm of News Corp., had paid legal fees for royal reporter Clive Goodman and private detective Glenn Mulcaire, who were jailed in 2007 after admitting phone hacking.

“Goodman employed one of the most expensive (attorneys) in the country. He was pleading guilty. Given that he was pleading guilty to an offence that would lead to summary dismissal, why on earth would News International pay his legal fees?” Davies said.

James Murdoch said he was as surprised as the MPs were when he found the legal fees had been made. Rupert Murdoch said no more would be paid unless there is a legally binding contract to do so.

Rupert Murdoch said he did not believe public figures have a right to privacy and that he believed investigative journalism leads to a more transparent, open and better society. But he said phone hacking went too far.

Murdoch continued to praise executives Rebekah Brooks and Les Hinton, both of whom resigned last week.

On the case that highlighted the abuse of phone hacking, when Mulcaire broke into the phone of 13-year-old missing schoolgirl Milly Dowler, who was later found murdered, James Murdoch said, “It is just appalling to think that anyone associated with any of our papers would do anything like that.”

In a closing statement, Rupert Murdoch said, “My company has 52,000 employees. I have led it for 53 years and made many mistakes. At no time do I remember being as sickened when I heard what the Dowler family has had to endure nor being so angry when I heard the News of the World had compounded their distress.

“I would like all the victims of phone hacking to know how deeply sorry I am,” he added, calling it “a horrible invasion into their lives.”

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