Murdochs face parliament grilling on phone hacking
LONDON MEDIA mogul Rupert Murdoch, his son James and ex-aide Rebekah Brooks faced an extraordinary showdown with MPs on Tuesday over a phone-hacking crisis that now threatens to engulf Britain’s prime minister.
As David Cameron admitted the country had a “big problem” and cut short a trip to Africa, the trio prepared to testify to a parliamentary committee over the scandal which sunk the News of the World tabloid and forced out two police chiefs.
In a further tragic twist, British police were investigating the unexplained death of whistleblower Sean Hoare, a former reporter at the newspaper who first implicated Cameron’s ex-spokesman Andy Coulson in the scandal.
“This is a big problem but we are a big country,” Cameron said after meeting Nigerian President Goodluck Jonathan in Lagos, adding: “We are going to sort them out.” Cameron, who is due to fly home to address an emergency session of parliament on Wednesday, added that his government would not lose its focus on the key challenges facing Britain, including restoring growth after the recession.
In London, Rupert Murdoch’s car was mobbed by photographers as it arrived at parliament and then drove off again.
Dozens of people queued up to get into the hearing of parliament’s Culture, Media and Sport committee to hear the two Murdochs and Brooks, until recently the three most powerful people in the British media.
Lawmakers also heard evidence from outgoing Scotland Yard chief Paul Stephenson, who quit on Sunday amid questions over the force’s links with Neil Wallis, deputy editor at the News of the World when Coulson edited the paper.
Stephenson admitted that 10 members of the Metropolitan Police press office had worked at News International, the British newspaper operation of Murdoch’s embattled global business, News Corporation.
But he denied taking a “swipe” at Cameron in his resignation statement and comparing the force’s employment of Wallis to Coulson.
Both Coulson, who left Downing Street in January, and Wallis have since been arrested and bailed on suspicion of phone hacking.
With New York-based News Corp.
also facing a probe in the United States and shares plummeting, the 80-year-old Murdoch reportedly engaged public relations consultants to train him for Tuesday’s session.
James Murdoch, chief executive of News Corp’s Europe and Asia operation, promises to be the focus of scrutiny over payments he is alleged to have approved to the victims of hacking.
The flame-haired Brooks, who quit as chief executive of News International on Friday, will also be taken to task for her remarks before the same committee in 2003 when she admitted police had been paid for stories.
Brooks, also a former editor of the News of the World, was arrested on Sunday on suspicion of hacking and bribing police.
The Murdochs initially refused to appear before the committee but relented after they were formally summoned.
Ed Miliband, the leader of the opposition Labour Party, called on them all to issue a full public apology.
“What members of the public will want to know is whether Rupert and James Murdoch and indeed Rebekah Brooks have some remorse for what happened, and are willing to apologise and say they have let down the British people,” he said.