Rupert Murdoch apologizes for phone-hacking scandal, rues cover-up


LONDON -- Rupert Murdoch apologized Thursday for the phone-hacking scandal that has tarnished his global media empire, declaring: “The buck stops with me.”

But he also blamed underlings at News Corp. for keeping him in the dark and trying to keep a lid on evidence of widespread hacking at the News of the World tabloid, which he shut down last July when the scandal broke wide open.

On his second day testifying before a British judicial inquiry on media ethics, the Australian-born tycoon said he has spent “hundreds of millions of dollars” on the legal fallout of the hacking allegations and on cleaning up his newspapers to make sure such lapses didn’t happen again.

“I failed. And I’m very sorry about that,” Murdoch, 81, told the court, adding: “It’s going to be a blot on my reputation for the rest of my life.”

Three separate criminal investigations have been launched as a result of the hacking scandal, and dozens of journalists at two of Murdoch’s papers -- the News of the World and the Sun -- have been arrested, although none has yet been charged.

But in sometimes combative testimony, the chairman of News Corp. defended the two papers, scoffing at descriptions of them as purveyors of titillation and gossip. Both titles are well-known for their sensational, often intrusive stories about celebrities, politicians and other high-profile figures, but Murdoch sought to characterize them as nobler publications dedicated to promoting the public good.

When the examining lawyer prefaced a pointed question with the comment “some people might say,” a peevish Murdoch snapped back: “People like you.” He quickly said he wished to withdraw the remark.

Murdoch acknowledged that the hacking scandal and the public opprobrium directed at News Corp. forced him to abandon his cherished bid to take over broadcaster British Sky Broadcasting last summer.

He expressed dismay that News International, the British arm of his company, had been obstructive during the investigation into phone hacking and other alleged wrongdoing at News of the World. He blamed misguided employees within the organization.

“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,” Murdoch said.

And he apologized to News of the World employees who now find themselves out of work.

“I’m guilty of not having paid enough attention to the News of the World," he said. "It was an omission by me, and all I can do is apologize to a lot of people, including all the innocent people in the News of the World who lost their jobs.”

Murdoch wrapped up his testimony early Thursday afternoon.


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Photo: Rupert Murdoch, left, looks to his wife, Wendi Deng Murdoch, as they are driven from The Royal Courts of Justice after he gave evidence to The Leveson Inquiry on Thursday in London. Credit: Peter Macdiarmid / Getty Images

Rupert Murdoch dishes on senior British politicians

LONDON -- Gordon Brown seems unbalanced. David Cameron is a “good family man.” Alex Salmond is amusing.

Those are media mogul Rupert Murdoch’s judgments of three of Britain’s most senior politicians -- a former prime minister, the current one and Scotland’s top leader, respectively -- delivered Wednesday during testimony before a British judicial investigation into media ethics.

Murdoch spent about four hours being quizzed on his role as one of Britain’s biggest newspaper proprietors and the power that comes with the job. Despite hobnobbing with prime ministers who crave endorsement from newspapers like the mass-market Sun, Murdoch stated with no apparent irony that he had never wielded any supposed influence in any way to benefit himself or his commercial interests.

“That is a complete myth, that I used the influence of the Sun or supposed political power to get favorable treatment,” he testified, dismissing plenty of indications and reams of criticism to the contrary.

The head of media giant News Corp. did, however, acknowledge that he has met with virtually every British premier of the last 30 years. He professed to be an admirer of Margaret Thatcher (who approved his bid to buy the Times of London) and to have spoken on many occasions with Tony Blair (whose participation in the invasion of Iraq he heartily supported).

Blair flew halfway around the world to try to win Murdoch’s backing for his Labor Party before elections in 1997 -- successfully, it turned out. Cameron, too, flew out to meet Murdoch and ingratiate himself.

Murdoch said he once met Cameron at a social gathering, where he noticed approvingly that Cameron took good care of his young son. About Cameron’s predecessor, Brown, he was less flattering, describing the former prime minister as an ill-tempered, unbalanced man who pledged “to make war” on News Corp. when Murdoch said his papers would call for a change of government at the next election.

“I said, ‘I’m sorry about that, Gordon, thank you for calling.’ End of subject,” Murdoch told the court.

Murdoch is to take the stand again Thursday. The examining lawyer is expected ask him about the phone-hacking scandal that has rocked his media empire and that sparked the judicial inquiry now underway.

Murdoch is also expected to face questions about News Corp.’s controversial bid to take over British Sky Broadcasting. Evidence that emerged at the inquiry Tuesday has caused a political furor over possibly improper conduct by the government minister in charge of deciding whether the bid was permissible under anti-monopoly rules. The minister, Jeremy Hunt, was supposed to be impartial but is now accused of secretly siding with Murdoch.


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Rupert Murdoch testifies, says phone hacking is 'lazy' journalism

Media baron Rupert Murdoch testified at a judicial inquiry in London set up because of the phone-hacking scandal engulfing his media empire
LONDON -- Media baron Rupert Murdoch on Wednesday scoffed at suggestions that he wields undue political influence in Britain, called critics of tabloids "elitist" and dismissed phone hacking as "a lazy way" for reporters to do their jobs.

In a London courtroom, the 81-year-old tycoon insisted that he tried "very hard to set an example of ethical behavior," despite the fact that dozens of journalists at his British newspapers have been arrested in wide-ranging investigations into illegal news-gathering practices, including bribing police.

Murdoch spoke under oath at a judicial inquiry into media ethics that was set up because of the phone-hacking scandal that has engulfed his giant News Corp. and shaken the British political establishment.

Even as he sat in the witness box, testimony from his son James on Tuesday was causing a political ruckus. A special advisor to the government minister in charge of the arts and media resigned because of revelations that he had passed sensitive information to James Murdoch's lobbyist on News Corp.'s controversial bid to take over British Sky Broadcasting.

The minister, Jeremy Hunt, is under heavy pressure to explain the lapse in his office. He is also under fire for appearing to be secretly working to help News Corp.'s bid, even though he was appointed as the officially impartial judge of whether the takeover bid could proceed under Britain's anti-monopoly rules.

Rupert Murdoch is likely to be questioned later Wednesday about the bid and about the hacking scandal.

During the morning session in court, he said he did not condone phone hacking or the hiring of private investigators to ferret out information, two tactics used on an almost industrial scale at the News of the World, the tabloid at the center of the scandal.

"It's a lazy way of reporters not doing their job properly," said Murdoch, who summarily shut down the weekly paper last July, when the hacking scandal broke wide open.

He also downplayed what critics call the excessive and baleful influence he holds on public life in Britain through his media holdings. British prime ministers have eagerly courted Murdoch over the last 30 years, a situation he said he never used to his direct advantage.

"I've never asked a prime minister for anything," he testified.

He also denied trying to advance his commercial interests through his newspapers, which in Britain include the Times of London and the bestselling Sun tabloid.

Murdoch summed up his journalistic mission this way: "Always to tell the truth, certainly to interest the public, to get their attention, but always to tell the truth ... I have great respect for the British public, and I try to carry that through."


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Photo: Media titan Rupert Murdoch testifies Wednesday at a British judicial inquiry into media ethics. Credit: Associated Press

Media spotlight may not help Norwegian killer spread views


Norwegian television has been banned from broadcasting the testimony of confessed killer Anders Behring Breivik as he goes on trial, yet his chilling declarations about why and how he killed scores of people have still made headlines around the world.

The deluge of reporting on Breivik has caused a backlash from disgusted Norwegians; one Norwegian newspaper website  allows people to browse a Breivik-free edition by clicking a button. Many complain that Breivik has gotten exactly what he wanted:  a platform  for spreading his views.

Yet experts disagree on whether airing his ideas will spread them. Very little is known about how people become radicalized, let alone how the media play into that, said Ben O’Loughlin, a Royal Holloway University of London professor who studies media and security.

Censoring his words could easily backfire, he said. “If you tell people these views are too extreme for us to show you, people immediately go on to the Internet to look for them,” O’Loughlin said.

The news that Breivik has a Massachusetts pen pal who calls his actions "atrocious but necessary" seemed to bear out the worst fears about the media blitz. Tad Tietze, a Sydney psychiatrist who contributed to a book on the murders, said Breivik is targeting his message to others who believe that Muslims are "invading their lands," hoping to convince them that violence is needed.

"His ideas can get out there via media and win them over," Tietze said. "Journalists are in a very, very difficult position,  because the trial is of obvious public interest and does need to be reported."

Others believe that Breivik is ultimately more likely to turn people against extremism. Norwegian anthropologist Thomas Hylland Eriksen, called as an expert witness in the case, told British television station ITN that Breivik was so distasteful that airing his views would be more like “a mosquito repellent,” showing people "how bad it could get if they are attracted to these crazy notions of purity and cleansing."

Radical right-wing parties that believe Europe is under threat from immigration have toned down their rhetoric since the killings, said Jamie Bartlett, head of the violence and extremism program at the Demos think tank. The Norwegian Progress Party, which Breivik once belonged to, has lost support.

"I think the interest in censoring him is that we want to punish him, rather than fear of these ideas themselves," said Padraig Reidy, news editor of Index of Censorship, a free-speech group.

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