Murdoch: ‘Humbled’ by Phone-hacking Scandal but Not Personally Responsible

Posted July 19th, 2011 at 11:00 am (UTC-5)
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Media baron Rupert Murdoch says he is humbled by the phone-hacking scandal engulfing his British press operations but said he was not personally responsible for it.

The 80-year-old Murdoch answered questions before a Parliament investigative committee on Tuesday alongside his son James, his chief deputy at his global media company, News Corporation. The elder Murdoch called his first-ever testimony before Parliament “the most humble day of my life.”

But when asked whether he was personally responsible “for this fiasco,” he tersely replied, “No.”

Asked who was, Murdoch laid the blame on “people that I trusted to run it, and then maybe the people they trusted.”

The Murdochs repeatedly apologized for the phone-hacking of several thousand calls by journalists they employed at the News of the World tabloid they shut recently after 168 years of publication. The elder Murdoch said he was “absolutely shocked, appalled and ashamed” when he learned two weeks ago that one reporter at the tabloid had hacked into the cellphone of murdered schoolgirl Milly Dowler.

The younger Murdoch told a legislative panel that he and his father had “great regret” about the phone-hacking and said the conduct did not “live up to the standards” of their News Corporation. He said they were determined to “put things right.”

The elder Murdoch's car was mobbed by photographers as he arrived more than two hours ahead of his testimony. Lawmakers were already sharply questioning London police officials about their close connections with former editors and journalists at Murdoch's British operations, including the News of the World.

Paul Stephenson, who quit Sunday as London police chief, testified that he regretted hiring Neil Wallis, a former editor at the tabloid, as a public relations consultant for the police agency known worldwide as Scotland Yard. The 60-year-old Wallis was arrested last week on suspicion of conspiring to intercept communications.

The former police chief called it an “embarrassing contract” with Wallis but said he had “no reason” to connect him to the phone-hacking allegations when he was hired. Stephenson also said he was “unlucky” to find out that Wallis had a business connection to the health spa that he stayed at for free while recovering from surgery.

Stephenson said that 10 of the 45 staff members in the police agency's media and public relations department formerly worked for the News of the World.

His testimony came as British Prime Minister David Cameron cut short a trip to Africa to attend an emergency session of Parliament and try to contain the crisis. His appointment records show that he has met or socialized 26 times with Murdoch and his executives since he became the country's leader 15 months ago.

News of the World reporters have been accused of illegally accessing thousands of cellphone voice mails of celebrities, politicians, rival journalists and even murder victims.

The scandal has led to the resignations of London's top two police officers, Stephenson and John Yates. Rebekah Brooks, who has resigned as head of Murdoch's British operations, and Mr. Cameron's former communications chief, Andy Coulson – another former News of the World editorhave been arrested.

British reporter Sean Hoare, who first revealed the phone-hacking scandal, was found dead Monday. Britain's Press Association news agency reports police say the death is not considered suspicious.

The New York Times had quoted Hoare as saying phone hacking was widely used and encouraged at the tabloid under Coulson.

In the United States, the Federal Bureau of Investigation has begun a probe into whether employees of Murdoch's media conglomerate tried to hack into the phones of September 11 terrorist attack victims and their families or tried to bribe police for information.

Murdoch's company owns several U.S. news and entertainment outlets, including the country's top business newspaper, The Wall Street Journal, and a major television outlet, Fox News Channel.