Media Baron Murdoch and Son Balk at Phone-hacking Testimony Next Week

Posted July 14th, 2011 at 9:50 am (UTC-5)
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Media baron Rupert Murdoch and his son James are refusing to testify before Parliament next week about the phone-hacking and police bribery scandal that has engulfed their British media operations.

The elder Murdoch told Parliament’s media committee Thursday that he was not available to attend next Tuesday’s hearing. But the 80-year-old chief of News Corporation said he is prepared to give evidence to a judge-led public inquiry into allegations of widespread phone-hacking by his journalists into the voicemails of murder victims and families of fallen soldiers and payoffs to police for information.

His son James told the lawmakers he would testify, but not before August 10th. The head of the Murdochs’ British operations, Rebekah Brooks, a former editor of the now-closed News of the World tabloid at the center of the scandal, said she would appear before the panel.

After the Murdochs refused to appear next week, the committee issued summonses for them. But it was not clear they could be compelled to appear since both are U.S. citizens, unlike Brooks, who is British.

Meanwhile, British police arrested a ninth suspect in their investigation, Neil Wallis, the 60-year-old former executive editor of the News of the World who left the paper in 2009 and is now a public relations executive. He was held on “suspicion of conspiring to intercept communications.”

Earlier in his career at the newspaper, Wallis was the deputy editor under Andy Coulson from 2003 to 2007. Coulson, the communications director for British prime minister David Cameron from 2007 until earlier this year, was arrested in the investigation earlier this month.

The breadth of the scandal has rocked Murdoch operations in Britain, forcing the elder Murdoch to shut the 168-year-old News of the World last weekend and then abandon his $12 billion bid to acquire full control of British Sky Broadcasting, a satellite television company.

British politicians, including Mr. Cameron, have regularly sought to curry favor with the elder Murdoch.

But with the British public recoiling at the journalists’ intrusion into the voicemails of everyday citizens, including those of murdered schoolgirl Milly Dowler, the British leader has turned against Murdoch. Mr. Cameron has named Lord Justice Brian Leveson to head a broad investigation into media operations in the country, as well as the specifics of what tactics Murdoch’s journalists employed to gather information for their stories.

The fallout of the British scandal has jumped to the United States, where Murdoch owns the country’s top business newspaper, The Wall Street Journal, and a major television news outlet, the Fox News Channel. Some U.S. lawmakers are calling for an investigation into allegations that Murdoch journalists attempted to hack into the voicemails of victims of the 2001 terrorist attacks in the U.S.

In Australia, Prime Minister Julia Gillard said Thursday that she may support a parliamentary review of the nation’s media, following calls by Australian lawmakers to look into Mr. Murdoch’s vast local media holdings.