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Parliament has more questions for Rupert Murdoch after secret tape

Rupert MurdochMedia IndustryNews Corp.JournalismBritainPoliticsReligion and Belief

News Corp. Chairman Rupert Murdoch will appear before a committee of the British Parliament following revelations of a secret recording in which the media mogul seemed to say that illicit payments to news sources were routine in Britain.

Murdoch, who two years ago was grilled before the same committee in the notorious phone-hacking scandal, now will be quizzed on whether he was candid in his answers during that 2011 hearing.

"He will be asked to discuss his comments," Jessica Bridges-Palmer, media officer for the House of Commons Select Committee on Culture, Media and Sport, said Tuesday. The comments were captured in the surreptitious recording during his visit to his company's Sun tabloid in London in March and were released last week.

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The latest furor centers on whether the press baron was condoning the payments to officials for news tips by suggesting that such behavior was part of the "culture of Fleet Street."

Early Tuesday, committee members voted to invite Murdoch to come before the panel to explain his comments on the recording. Because Murdoch is a U.S. citizen, he cannot be compelled to appear before the British government panel.

"Mr. Murdoch welcomes the opportunity to return to the Select Committee and answer their questions," News Corp. said in a statement Tuesday. "He looks forward to clearing up any misconceptions as soon as possible."

Two years ago, Murdoch and his son James Murdoch answered committee members' questions in the phone-hacking scandal. The British panel was investigating whether the Murdochs knew of ethics violations by News Corp. journalists who hacked into cellphones of celebrities and crime victims in pursuit of juicy scoops.

The elder Murdoch called that appearance before Parliament "the most humble day of my life."

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The tape of the March meeting at the Sun was obtained by ExaroNews, an investigative website in Britain that claims a mission of "holding power to account."

On the tape, Murdoch blasted the police investigation of the company's ethics scandal, saying, "We're being picked on."

Murdoch can be heard disparaging police officers who had been probing the ethics scandal for more than two years and rousting reporters out of bed in the early-morning hours to face arrest.

"The cops are totally incompetent," Murdoch said.

In a twist, one of the journalists who attended the small gathering secretly recorded the 82-year-old press baron, who was trying to show his support for his scandal-tainted team of journalists.

The seemingly most incendiary comments came after a Sun journalist sought an acknowledgment from Murdoch that unethical journalistic practices have a long history in Britain and predated the current crop of reporters.

Such practices "existed at every newspaper in Fleet Street. Long since forgotten," Murdoch said.

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News Corp. has forcefully shot down suggestions that Murdoch's remarks were an acknowledgment of the nefarious activities in his own stable of newspapers.

"Mr. Murdoch never knew of payments made by Sun staff to police before News Corp. disclosed that to U.K. authorities. Furthermore, he never said he knew of payments. It's absolutely false to suggest otherwise," News Corp. has said.

The scandal has been devastating. More than two dozen active and former journalists in News Corp.'s British newspaper division have been arrested, including the former head of that group, Rebekah Brooks, who had a close relationship with Murdoch.

News Corp. has spent $390 million in legal costs and settlements to victims of the widespread phone hacking. It shut down the News of the World tabloid in the wake of the scandal. Since then, journalists with the company's Sun tabloid have been caught up in the police investigation of alleged payments to government officials.

Two years ago, Murdoch and son James told the committee that they were unaware of the phone hacking at the company's British tabloids.

Parliament is preparing to go on a six-week recess, so it was unclear when a Murdoch appearance would occur, but it's likely to be early fall.

Separately, the U.S. Department of Justice has been reviewing whether the phone hacking and illicit payments generating from News Corp.'s British operations constitute violations of the U.S. Foreign Corrupt Practices Act, which forbids executives who work for U.S.-based companies from bribing foreign officials.

meg.james@latimes.com

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