In a second day of testimony in Britain's High Court on Thursday, media mogul Rupert Murdoch blamed the phone hacking scandal that brought down News of the World on renegade journalists who hid their activity from the tabloid's management.
REUTERS - Rupert Murdoch blamed News of the World journalists for conspiring to cover up a culture of phone-hacking at the tabloid, saying they hid their activities from his son James and protegee Rebekah Brooks and that he personally was not paying attention.
In a second day of testimony in Britain’s High Court on Thursday, Murdoch painted a picture of a rogue culture at the best-selling Sunday tabloid, in an echo of his company’s now abandoned defence that a single “rogue reporter” was to blame.
“I think in newspapers, the reporters do act very much on their own, they do protect their sources, they don’t disclose to their colleagues what they are doing,” Murdoch told a judicial inquiry into press ethics.
Showing frequent flashes of annoyance as the questioning became more pointed, the media mogul admitted he had not paid enough attention to the News of the World but did not accept that he had allowed a culture of illegality to flourish.
Asked where the culture of cover-up had originated, Murdoch answered: “I think from within the News of the World. There were one or two very strong characters there who I think had been there many, many years and were friends of the journalists.”
“The person I’m thinking of was a friend of the journalists and a drinking pal and clever lawyer and forbade them... to report to Mrs Brooks or to James,” said Murdoch, in a thinly veiled reference to the News of the World’s former top lawyer Tom Crone, who has accused James Murdoch of lying.
“That’s not to excuse on our behalf at all. I take it extremely seriously that that situation had arisen.”
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.
On Wednesday, Murdoch had appeared calm and considered, but Thursday’s tone was more hostile as the inquiry’s top counsel Robert Jay ratcheted up the pressure and described the culture of phone-hacking as a “cancer”.
When Jay suggested that the response of News International, the British newspaper arm of News Corp, was a “desire to cover up, not expose”, Murdoch snapped back: “Well, to people with minds like yours,” before quickly adding “I take that back.”
Jay, keeping his cool, assured him: “I’m very thick-skinned Mr Murdoch. Do not worry one moment.”
The comment caused consternation among Murdoch’s legal team in the courtroom, forcing Judge Brian Leveson to ask one of the party to sit down before resuming proceedings.
Brooks, a former News of the World editor and favourite of Murdoch, resigned as chief executive of News International last July after Murdoch shut down the 168-year-old tabloid.
Prime Minister David Cameron appointed Leveson last year to examine Britain’s press standards after News of the World journalists admitted hacking into phones on a massive scale to generate scoops 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, 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, 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.
Date created : 2012-04-26