News Corp. In The Spotlight Again

Mar 14, 2012
Originally published on March 14, 2012 7:10 pm
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From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Robert Siegel.


And I'm Melissa Block. News Corp. executive James Murdoch is defending himself again. He's trying to convince the British parliament that he told them the truth when he testified last year about scandals in his newspaper empire. NPR's David Folkenflik reports Murdoch is making his latest defense even as his company faces some serious new troubles.

DAVID FOLKENFLIK, BYLINE: James Murdoch's letter to a parliamentary inquiry, written earlier this week and released today, seeks to deflect attacks on his testimony in the phone-mail hacking and police bribery scandal that has caused so many British News Corp. executives their jobs. It also comes at a time when the company is under both criminal and regulatory scrutiny. The British media regulator Ofcom has signaled it's undertaking a new review of whether News Corp. is a fit and proper controlling owner of BSkyB, the British broadcasting giant.

In addition, the former CEO of News Corp.'s British newspaper arm, Rebekah Brooks, was arrested yesterday for a second time, this time on suspicion of perversion of justice, so was her husband, Charlie Brooks, along with the British newspaper division's top security official and three others. Brooks has proved an embarrassment both to the Murdoch family and to her close friend Prime Minister David Cameron. He had to acknowledge earlier this month riding a horse she and her husband, Charlie Brooks, had been given by police officials.

PRIME MINISTER DAVID CAMERON: And he's a good friend, and he's a neighbor in the constituency. We live a few miles apart. I haven't been riding with him since the election as I said yesterday. Before the election, yes, I did go riding with him. He has a number of different horses and, yes, one of them was this former police horse, Razor, which I did ride.

FOLKENFLIK: Murdoch and the company have been cooperating with the police in parliamentary inquiries. In July, he told M.P.s, he was ill-served by his top executives who failed to bring the issue sufficiently to his attention.

JAMES MURDOCH: I have to tell you I know and I sympathize with the frustration of this committee. And it's a matter of real regret that the facts could not emerge and could not be gotten, to my understanding, faster.

FOLKENFLIK: Though there had been arrests in 2006, a big settlement in 2008 and an expose by The Guardian in 2009, James Murdoch said he knew little of the extent of phone hacking until a lawsuit in 2010. But the final editor of the News of the World and the paper's former top lawyer testified they told Murdoch in 2008 that phone hacking was widespread at News of the World to convince him to make the huge payout to keep a hacking victim quiet. In September, conservative M.P. Damian Collins questioned former News of the World editor Colin Myler over what Murdoch was told.

DAMIAN COLLINS: He is very clear on his recollection of that meeting. You are not. And that is my question.

COLIN MYLER: I am clear. I'm sorry, but I am clear. There was no ambiguity about the significance of that document and what options were there for the company to take.

FOLKENFLIK: Murdoch subsequently handed over an email exchange that showed he was warned of a nightmare scenario. This week, Murdoch wrote to M.P.s that he simply hadn't read that full exchange and that outside analysts have overstated its implications. Damian Collins.

COLLINS: I think, to James Murdoch, it's more a question of having been briefed on some of these events in more detail than he's let on. In which case, he may have known more at the time than he subsequently claimed. Or is it the case that maybe he didn't know but he should have asked more questions? He should have been more inquiring and challenging of his staff given he's being asked a high enough - large amounts of money in legal payments.

FOLKENFLIK: Collins says his committee is trying to figure out what James Murdoch knew and when he knew it. The committee is expected to release its conclusions in coming weeks. David Folkenflik, NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.