REPORTING FROM LONDON -- Accused of enforcing a Mafia-style code of silence, News International chief James Murdoch maintained Thursday that he was not aware of the widespread use of phone hacking at the company's now-closed News of the World tabloid in Britain until late last year.
During more than 2 1/2 hours of testimony before a parliamentary committee, Murdoch accused the paper's editor, Colin Myler, and legal advisor, Tom Crone, of not telling him that the practice went beyond a single "rogue reporter." He insisted they never showed him an email with transcripts of intercepted phone calls, saying, "I believe their testimony was misleading."
Labor Party lawmaker Tom Watson called Murdoch "the first Mafia boss in history who didn't know he was running a criminal enterprise."
Murdoch appeared taken aback, saying the comment was "inappropriate."
Murdoch was recalled by the Culture, Media and Sport Select Committee to answer accusations that he had misled members in July, when he appeared alongside his father, Rupert Murdoch, who had a pie thrown at him by a spectator.
The younger Murdoch was once seen as his father's likely successor at the helm of News Corp., a global media conglomerate that owns TV networks, a movie studio and newspapers. But his career prospects have been put in question by the scandal engulfing his family and the media empire it controls.
As allegations mounted that News of the World had hacked into the voice mail accounts of celebrities, members of the British royal family and even crime victims, the company shut down the 168-year-old tabloid and abandoned its $12-billion bid to acquire full control of British Sky Broadcasting, the Commonwealth's largest pay TV service.
Murdoch apologized Thursday for some of the paper's practices, including the recent disclosure that it had hired a private investigator to spy on public figures and their families.
“It is appalling," Murdoch said. "It is something I would never condone, the company should never condone.”
But he said he had no knowledge of the number of private detectives used by the paper. He also said his company could find no evidence that any victims of the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks in the United States had their voice mail accounts hacked, as alleged by a rival tabloid.
“So far you are coming up empty,” Conservative Party lawmaker Louise Mensch said toward the end of the session.
-- Janet Stobart
Photo: A demonstrator wearing a mask depicting James Murdoch poses outside Parliament in London on Thursday. Credit: Suzanne Plunkett / Reuters