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Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Phone-hacking: How the MPs performed

After being hauled before MPs to give evidence to a Parliamentary Select Committee on what he described as the “most humble day of my life”, he insisted he was the “best person to clear this up”. His News Corporation media empire is reeling from police inquiries into phone hacking and illegal payments to police at the closed Sunday newspaper.

The 80-year-old media mogul blamed people he trusted for letting him down during a dramatic appearance before a committee of MPs which was temporarily halted when he was attacked with the plate of foam in an extraordinary incident by a man who evaded security.

Stunned MPs watched as Mr Murdoch’s third wife Wendi Deng sprang to his defence and slapped the assailant, who was arrested and taken away by police. After the room was emptied Mr Murdoch took off his jacket and the session resumed in some levity, one of Mr Murdoch’s most vociferous critics Tom Watson MP telling him: “Your wife has a very good left hook.”

The incident happened towards the end of a hearing lasting more than two hours in which Mr Murdoch and his son James, News Corporation’s deputy chief operating officer, repeatedly apologised for the wrongdoing which led them to close down the News of the World.

Jim Sheridan, Labour, first asked Mr Murdoch Sr why he had entered 10 Downing Street by the back door after the general election, with the businessman admitting it was to “avoid photographers”.
But Mr Murdoch went on to say that he had done so several times when Labour was in power, adding in an aside that his decision to support the party had led to his newspapers losing 200,000 circulation.
Mr Sheridan extracted the information that Mr Murdoch Sr does not consider himself responsible for the “fiasco” but failed to ask him an obvious follow-up question about why Les Hinton, a senior executive he said he “would trust with my life”, had resigned last week.
Therese Coffey, who was only elected last year, concentrated her questions on the out-of-court settlements paid to phone-hacking victims.
She made one particularly pointed remark about Hillsborough, the football tragedy where false claims in The Sun led to a lasting boycott of the paper in Liverpool.
Adrian Sanders attempted to rise above the details by asking the Murdochs if they knew the term “wilful blindness”, which was used in the Enron corporate scandal, but their answers added little to the debate.
Philip Davies, the right-wing Tory MP for Shipley, and Paul Farrelly, a former financial journalist, impressed many by finally establishing that News International had contributed to legal fees for the two men previously jailed for phone-hacking.
Alan Keen was mocked for referring to the Murdochs as “Mr Rupert” and “Mr James”, while Damian Collins became the first to mention Watergate but otherwise elicited little from the witnesses.
Louise Mensch was asking the questions when Mr Murdoch Sr was attacked by a protestor, and received some criticism online for praising his “immense courage” as he returned to finish the session. She did, however, press him on why he had not considered resigning over the scandal.
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