James Murdoch to testify again to UK committee

AP News
Posted: Oct 24, 2011 11:24 AM
James Murdoch to testify again to UK committee

British lawmakers said Monday they will grill Rupert Murdoch's son James about newspaper phone hacking for a second time next month, as Murdoch's former right-hand man denied that he knew about the scale of the wrongdoing when he paid almost 250,000 pounds ($400,000) to a reporter convicted of illegal eavesdropping.

The House of Commons Culture, Media and Sport committee said James Murdoch, his father's heir-apparent, will give evidence on Nov. 10.

Rupert Murdoch shut down the 168-year-old British tabloid News of the World in July after it was accused of illegally hacking into the voice mails of celebrities, politicians and even crime victims in search of scoops.

Both Murdochs denied knowing about the scale of the wrongdoing when they appeared before the panel of lawmakers the same month.

Former News. Corp. employees have since cast doubt on the Murdochs' testimony. Ex-company lawyer Jonathan Chapman rejected the notion that the two had been kept in the dark by subordinates, saying their statements had contained "serious inaccuracies."

Other senior executives have backed the Murdochs' claim that they did not know News of the World reporters regularly hacked phones and paid police officers for information.

Some News Corp. critics _ and shareholders _ have called for James Murdoch to resign from his post as CEO of his father's international division over the scandal.

Les Hinton, former publisher of the Murdoch-owned Wall Street Journal and one of Rupert Murdoch's closest allies, said he considered that unlikely.

"I see no reason why James Murdoch should resign," he told the panel of lawmakers Monday.

Hinton worked for Murdoch for 52 years until the scandal, which has convulsed Britain's media landscape. In July he resigned as publisher of the Journal and CEO of Dow Jones & Co. _ the most senior Murdoch executive claimed by the furor.

Hinton said Monday he had resigned because "although unaware, I was in charge of this company at the time of the core wrongdoing."

The former publisher said he had had no idea hacking was rife when he personally approved a quarter of a million pound payment to Clive Goodman, the News of the World reporter jailed in 2007 for eavesdropping on the mobile phone voice mails of royal aides.

Hinton, who was then executive chairman of Murdoch's British newspaper division, acknowledged he had seen a letter from Goodman to the company's human resources department in which the reporter alleged phone hacking was widespread at the paper and common knowledge among editors.

Hinton, 67, said he had launched a "pretty thorough" internal investigation into Goodman's claim, but said "there was no basis found for it."

He said he fired Goodman for gross misconduct, but decided to pay him the substantial sum, almost three times the reporter's annual salary, to end an unfair dismissal claim by Goodman.

"I decided at the time that the right thing to do was to settle this and put it behind us," Hinton said, giving evidence by video link from the United States.

The phone hacking scandal has forced the resignation of two of London's top police officers and claimed the job of Prime Minister David Cameron's former spin doctor, Andy Coulson, an ex-News of the World editor. More than a dozen people have been arrested in the last year, including Coulson, though none has yet been charged.

Murdoch's global News Corp. has expressed contrition, launched an internal inquiry and set aside 20 million pounds ($32 million) to compensate victims, who could number in the hundreds. Dozens of alleged hacking victims, from lawmakers and sports figures to Hollywood star Jude Law, are suing the company.

In previous appearances before the committee in 2007 and 2009, Hinton said he had seen no evidence that phone hacking went beyond a single rogue reporter, Goodman.

On Monday he denied he had misled the committee, but said "the full picture" of what had happened was still emerging.

"I think it's clear ... that some of the answers you were given were not accurate," Hinton said. "Whether 'untruthful' is the right word, I don't know."

Hinton claimed he was hazy on details of what happened several years ago, answering "I don't remember" or "I am foggy on this detail," to several questions _ to the exasperation of some members of the committee.

Labour lawmaker Paul Farrelly asked whether Hinton thought he had been "kept in the dark" by those beneath him.

"I can't answer that question," Hinton said, "as I don't know what happened."