Panel: Murdoch Is Too Powerful In U.K.
RENEE MONTAGNE, HOST:
This is MORNING EDITION from NPR News. I'm Renee Montagne.
STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:
And I'm Steve Inskeep. Good morning. News Corp. chairman Rupert Murdoch faced uncomfortable questions again today in a London courtroom. The questions focus on phone hacking by his now-defunct tabloid News of the World and the influence he may have had with British politicians. This is a judicial inquiry into a scandal that has reached the highest levels of the British government. And today, for the first time Mr. Murdoch apologized for, quote, not paying enough attention to the unfolding scandal.
RUPERT MURDOCH: You know, I have to admit that some newspapers are closer to my heart than others. But I also have to say that I failed.
INSKEEP: NPR's Philip Reeves is monitoring the hearing in London. And Phil, striking admission there.
PHILIP REEVES, BYLINE: Yes, indeed. But I think the most striking admission of the day was that Rupert Murdoch said that there'd been a cover-up at the News of the World. He said that he and his executives were all misinformed and shielded from what was going on there. He said he blamed one or two people for that. He said he didn't want to name them because - he didn't know this, but they may even have been arrested by now. But he said there's no question, and I'm quoting him, he said no question in my mind that maybe even the editor, but certainly beyond that, someone took charge of a cover-up which we were victim to and I regret.
He went on later to give a few more details. He talked about one or two very strong characters at the paper - old-timers who, according to evidence that he'd seen, had banned people from talking to Rebecca Brooks and to his son James Murdoch - that's the chief executive and chairman at the time, of the Murdoch subsidiary that overseas his British newspapers.
STEVE INKSEEP, HOST:
I want to make sure I understand this, Phil Reeves, because he's admitting wrongdoing here, he's expressing regret, but he also seems to be, Rupert Murdoch seems to be keeping some distance between himself and the scandal, right? He's saying the cover-up affected me, I didn't know what was going on, and even says in that piece of tape we played, some newspapers are closer to my heart than others, implying that he wasn't paying attention to them all.
REEVES: Yes, exactly. I mean on one hand he's saying it's my fault. On the other hand he's sitting at the very lofty heights as the man in charge of this huge media empire and pointing an accusing finger downwards. He was asked - there was a very interesting moment when the chairman of the inquiry, the judge who's presiding over it, Brian Leveson, asked him about his newspapers. He said, listen, you know, you are - you have newspapers in your blood. You love newspapers. Didn't you want to know what was going on at the News of the World when you first found out those reports that there was hacking there at the time by one reporter? Later turned out to be many more, of course.
And Murdoch said, well, the police had closed the file on it. But then he went on to say that News of the World was in fact an aberration. He expressed regret for the staff that have lost their jobs there, said he hadn't paid enough attention to it and wished he'd closed it earlier.
INSKEEP: Let me ask about the tone, Phil Reeves. How did Murdoch respond to that tough questioning?
REEVES: Well, it was interesting today. He was more confrontational than he was yesterday. Yesterday he was overall rather soft-spoken. Today he was quite rude at times - about his opponents, as usual, but also about some of his own former editors. There was one interesting moment when he was asked by the counsel to the inquiry, Robert Jay, who suggested that his company is more interested in covering things up, people think that - more interested in covering things up than exposing them. And Murdoch interjected: People with minds like yours, he said. And then immediately regretted it, saying I take that back, I take that back.
(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)
INKSEEP: Sounded like an editorial writer for one of his papers there for just a moment, or is on his way to, anyway, it sounds like. Now, the phone hacking scandal is what has caught the most attention here in the United States, but there's another part of this that seems to be getting greater attention in Britain, am I right?
REEVES: Yeah, that's right, and it's Murdoch's bid - it's all about Murdoch's bid to win control over British satellite broadcasting giant BSkyB. Had that bid succeeded, it would have been the biggest deal in the history of Murdoch's News Corp. There's been a political furor going on here since Tuesday, when this same inquiry published a stack of emails. They concerned communications between the office of the British cabinet minister responsible for adjudicating on that same deal, the culture secretary, Jeremy Hunt, and a lobbyist who was working for the office of Murdoch's son James.
They suggest that Hunt's office was covertly providing a stream of confidential, detailed information about the deal to the Murdochs. Hunt's denied that. Murdoch was asked about Hunt. He said he thought Hunt was actually fair in the handling of the deal. He didn't remember meeting him, though, and he said the author of those emails, the lobbyist working for his son, had probably been exaggerating.
INSKEEP: Okay, Phil, thanks very much.
REEVES: You're welcome.
INSKEEP: That's NPR's Philip Reeves with the latest from Rupert Murdoch's testimony in London. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright National Public Radio.