Phone hacking: Rupert Murdoch confesses "cover-up"



Phone hacking: Rupert Murdoch confesses London: News Corp executive chairman Rupert Murdoch said on Thursday that his UK newspaper company was the victim of a cover up, alleging that he and his son were deliberately kept in the dark about phone hacking at the News of the World.

Murdoch was being questioned at a media ethics inquiry led by Lord Justice Brian Leveson, which was set up following the scandal over large-scale wrongdoing at the Sunday tabloid.

"The senior executives were all misinformed, and shielded from anything that was going on there," he told the inquiry. "I do blame one or two people for that."

He didn't name them, but in suggestive comments identified one of those people as "a clever lawyer" who drank with many of the journalists involved. "This person forbade them to go to (News International chief executive) Mrs (Rebekah) Brooks or (Murdoch's son) James," he testified.

Murdoch has condemned phone hacking and other media misdeeds but claims he was unaware of its scope.

"All I can do is apologise," the 81-year-old said at Thursday's hearing, allowing that he could have done more to nip the scandal in the bud.

Murdoch's earlier testimony has focused on his political influence. Murdoch has downplayed his political role in Britain and says he has not sought special favours.

The 81-year-old mogul electrified the judicial inquiry yesterday, robustly rejecting accusations that he had used his media empire to play puppet master to a succession of British prime ministers.

The appearance at the inquiry of a man who has courted prime ministers and presidents for the last 40 years is a defining moment in a scandal that has laid bare collusion between British politicians, police and Murdoch's News Corp.

Under questioning by one of London's top lawyers on Wednesday, Murdoch had appeared calm and considered, displaying only flashes of his reputation as one of the world's most menacing media tycoons.

Prime Minister David Cameron appointed judge Brian Leveson last year to examine Britain's press standards after journalists at Murdoch's News of the World tabloid admitted hacking into phones on a massive scale to generate exclusives and salacious front page stories.

The admission last year, and the revelation that journalists had hacked into the phones of ordinary people and crime victims, forced the closure of the 168-year-old tabloid and prompted many to question whether the police had declined to properly investigate the scandal because of Murdoch's influence.

Critics argue that staff at the mass selling Sunday tabloid felt they were above the law as their boss and owner regularly dined with the prime minister and senior police officers.

Andy Coulson, a former editor of the tabloid who stood down over phone hacking, went on to become Cameron's personal spokesman. He has since been arrested.

Murdoch press

Murdoch, whose newspapers claimed to decide who won British elections, dismissed Cameron in just three words on Wednesday. Asked if, as reported, he had initially found Cameron to be lightweight, Murdoch replied: "No. Not then”.

While most British newspapers splashed Murdoch's appearance at the inquiry on their front page, his own Sun newspaper reserved the news for page 10 on Thursday.

The Sun also printed an aggressive editorial about the government under the headline "Dipsticks", a play on the fact that new data had just shown that Britain's economy may have fallen into a double-dip recession.

"The Tory leadership are adrift," the Sun said. "They muddle on, hoping something might turn up."

"And indeed it might. If there were an election tomorrow, who could say Ed Miliband might not win it?"

The rival, left-leaning Daily Mirror tabloid pictured Murdoch with former prime ministers Margaret Thatcher and Tony Blair with current leader David Cameron in his pocket, under a headline "Empire of the Sun".

Murdoch was the first newspaper boss to visit Cameron after he took office in 2010 - entering Downing Street via the back door - and politicians from all parties have lived in fear for decades of his press and what it might reveal about their personal lives.

Bureau Report