Rupert Murdoch, who last year closed the News of the World tabloid after a phone-hacking scandal engulfed News Corp.’s U.K. unit, told a media-ethics inquiry that abuses went beyond voice-mail interceptions.
“There have been some abuses,” the 81-year-old News Corp. chairman told the inquiry in London. “I would say there are many other abuses but we can all go into that in time.”
Murdoch, testifying under oath, denied speculation he hadn’t forgiven Prime Minister David Cameron for calling for the inquiry last year. The comments are Murdoch’s first public testimony since he was forced to appear before a Parliamentary committee probing the scandal in July, a day he called the “most humble” of his life.
Murdoch’s son, News Corp. Deputy Chief Operating Officer James Murdoch, yesterday gave the inquiry details on the company’s interaction with lawmakers as it sought approval to buy the 61 percent of British Sky Broadcasting Group Plc it didn’t already own. U.K. Culture Secretary Jeremy Hunt, the minister who had to approve the deal, faces calls to resign after e-mails at the hearing showed either Hunt or his aides leaked information to News Corp. during their deliberations.
The inquiry began last year after evidence emerged that phone hacking at the News of the World was rampant and police opened probes into bribery and computer hacking by journalists at its other U.K. titles, including the daily Sun tabloid.
Hunt Aide Resigns
Hunt’s special adviser, Adam Smith, stepped down today, saying any contact he had with News Corp. lobbyists was done without authorization from the Culture Secretary.
News Corp. abandoned its 7.8 billion-pound ($12.6 billion) bid to buy all of BSkyB at the peak of the hacking scandal.
The review is shedding light on the extent of News Corp.’s political influence since Murdoch started buying British newspapers in 1969.
Robert Jay, the lawyer for the inquiry, asked Murdoch to explain his recent posts on his Twitter Inc. account referring to U.K. “right wingers and toffs,” referring to slang for elitists, that criticized the government.
“Don’t take my tweets too seriously,” Murdoch replied.
Murdoch, asked about the expansion of his U.K. media business in the 1980s, said his newspapers in Britain have never included political bias in their reporting or been used to further News Corp.’s business interests.
“I took a particularly strong pride in the fact we’ve never pushed our commercial interests in our papers,” Murdoch said. “I try very hard to set an example for ethical behavior.”
Murdoch also said he denied he sought to curry favor with politicians when asked about a 1981 lunch with former Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher, when he was buying the Times.
“I’ve never asked a prime minister for anything,” Murdoch said.
James Murdoch said yesterday that he discussed the BSkyB bid with Cameron at a private Christmas dinner in 2010. The “tiny side conversation” took place two days after Cameron had removed responsibility for deciding whether to allow the takeover from Business Secretary Vince Cable, Murdoch said. Cable had been recorded by undercover journalists saying he had “declared war” with the Murdoch family.
In July, Cameron said “the clock has stopped” on Rupert Murdoch’s influence over British politics. He made the comment the same month that ex-News of the World editor Andy Coulson, who resigned in 2007, was arrested in the phone-hacking probe. Coulson was Cameron’s press chief until January 2011, when he quit as a result of the scandal.
Regulator Ofcom is examining whether News Corp. is “fit and proper” to own its 39 percent stake in BSkyB, Britain’s biggest pay-TV provider. The watchdog opened a separate probe into its Sky News channel this week to investigate e-mail hacking by a reporter.
Rupert Murdoch told Jay today that the company doesn’t try to influence the content of its newspapers.
When Murdoch bought the nation’s Times and Sunday Times, he pledged they would have editorial independence, something he told the inquiry today was guaranteed by an Act of Parliament. Harold Evans, who had won a series of awards editing the Sunday Times, was appointed editor of the daily paper. He left after a year.
In his memoirs, Evans said Murdoch told an executive at the paper he didn’t see why he shouldn’t tell the Times editor what to do. Murdoch denied that today, adding that Evans had come to him seeking editorial direction and he’d refused to give it.
“I never gave instructions to the editor of the Times or the Sunday Times,” Murdoch said. “If you want to judge my thinking, look at The Sun.”
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