LONDON, April 26 (Reuters) - Rupert Murdoch called h
of the World tabloid an 'aberration', blaming journalists for
hiding a phone-hacking culture from himself, his son James and
his protegee Rebekah Brooks, and saying he wished he had shut it
Rejecting personal responsibility for a culture that allowed
illegality to flourish, Murdoch painted a picture of a rogue
culture at the Sunday tabloid, in an echo of his company's now
abandoned defence that a single 'rogue reporter' was to blame.
'The News of the World, to be quite honest, was an
aberration, and it's my fault,' the world's most powerful media
mogul said in a second day of testimony in Britain's High Court
on Thursday. 'I'm sorry I didn't close it years before.'
Showing frequent flashes of annoyance as the questioning
became more pointed, the 81-year-old admitted he had not paid
enough attention to the News of the World but did not accept
that he had allowed a culture of illegality to flourish.
'I think in newspapers, the reporters do act very much on
their own, they do protect their sources, they don't disclose to
their colleagues what they are doing,' Murdoch told a judicial
inquiry into press ethics.
Asked where the culture of cover-up had originated, Murdoch
answered: 'I think from within the News of the World. There were
one or two very strong characters there who I think had been
there many, many years and were friends of the journalists.'
'The person I'm thinking of was a friend of the journalists
and a drinking pal and clever lawyer and forbade them ... to
report to Mrs. Brooks or to James,' said Murdoch, in a thinly
veiled reference to the News of the World's former top lawyer
Tom Crone, who has accused James Murdoch of lying.
'Someone took charge of a cover-up, which we were victim to
and I regret,' he said.
The inquiry's top counsel, Robert Jay, picked up on Murdoch
admission of a cover-up, causing consternation among Murdoch's
legal team in the courtroom, and forcing Judge Brian Leveson to
ask one of the party to sit down before resuming proceedings.
The appearance at the inquiry of a man who has courted prime
ministers and presidents for the last 40 years was a defining
moment in a scandal that has laid bare collusion between British
politicians, police and Murdoch's News Corp.
The tone of Thursday's hearing became increasingly hostile
after the fairly civil exchanges on Wednesday, as Jay ratcheted
up the pressure and described the culture of phone-hacking as a
When Jay suggested that the response of News International,
the British newspaper arm of News Corp, was a 'desire to cover
up, not expose,' Murdoch snapped back: 'Well, to people with
minds like yours,' before quickly adding 'I take that back.'
Jay, keeping his cool, assured him: 'I'm very thick-skinned
Mr. Murdoch. Do not worry one moment.'
Murdoch described how the corporate mood had changed after
last July's revelation that the News of the World had hacked
into the voicemail of missing schoolgirl Milly Dowler, who was
later found murdered - a turning point in the scandal.
'You could feel the blast coming in the window,' he said,
explaining why he had decided to close down the 168-year-old
News of the World, for decades Britain's best-selling Sunday
tabloid. 'I panicked. But I'm glad I did.'
The move was seen by angry News of the World journalists as
a bid to save Brooks, the editor of the tabloid at the time when
much of the phone-hacking occurred, whom Murdoch had promoted to
run the whole of News International.
Brooks, known for her distinctive mane of red hair and
skilful manipulation of relationships with top politicians,
resigned a week later and has since been arrested twice on
suspicion of charges related to hacking and bribery.
The scandal also put an end to News Corp's long-cherished
ambition to buy the 61 percent of satellite broadcaster BSkyB it did not already own, a $12 billion deal that would
have been the company's biggest-ever acquisition.
The company had assiduously cultivated Culture Secretary
Jeremy Hunt, who had been trying to steer through the takeover,
which was controversial because it would have increased
Murdoch's already considerable media ownership in Britain.
On Tuesday, the inquiry was told of hundreds of emails
exchanged between News Corp's top London lobbyist and James
Murdoch, which boasted of the company's access to Hunt's office
and privileged access to sensitive information.
Hunt's aide, Adam Smith, resigned the next day, and
opposition politicians are calling for Hunt to quit, in an
indication of the consequences the inquiry may have in its new
phase of examining relations between the press and politicians.
Rupert Murdoch said he had not got involved in the politics
of the BSkyB bid and could not recall being given updates by his
son James, who was at the time chairman of News International
and of BSkyB.
'I don't remember any conversation, to be honest with you,
but I'm assuming that he kept me up to date to some extent. I
delegated the situation to him, I left it to him,' he said.
Prime Minister David Cameron appointed Leveson last year to
examine Britain's press standards after News of the World
journalists admitted hacking into phones on a massive scale to
generate scoops and salacious front page stories.
The admission last year, and the revelation that journalists
had hacked into the phones of ordinary people and crime victims,
prompted questions of whether the police declined to properly
investigate the scandal because of Murdoch's influence.
While most British newspapers splashed Murdoch's appearance
at the inquiry on their front page, his own Sun newspaper
reserved the news for page 10 on Thursday.
The Sun also printed an excoriating editorial about the
government under the headline 'Dipsticks', a play on the fact
that new data had just shown that Britain's economy may have
fallen into a double-dip recession.
'The Tory leadership are adrift,' the Sun said. 'They muddle
on, hoping something might turn up.'
'And indeed it might. If there were an election tomorrow,
who could say (Labour Party leader) Ed Miliband might not win
The rival, left-leaning Daily Mirror tabloid pictured
Murdoch with former prime ministers Margaret Thatcher and Tony
Blair and with Cameron in his pocket, under a headline 'Empire
of the Sun'.
(Editing by Paul Simao)
Keywords: HACKING MURDOCH/
(For highlights of Murdoch's remarks, please double click on)
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