James Murdoch insists he was unaware of widespread phone-hacking
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LONDON -- James Murdoch, the son of media titan Rupert Murdoch, testified Tuesday that he had no idea phone hacking was widespread at the News of the World tabloid and that he would have insisted the company ‘get to the bottom of what was going on’ had he known.
In a London courtroom, Murdoch said he had been assured by underlings that hacking was confined to a ‘rogue reporter’ who was jailed in 2007 for tapping into voicemails left for members of Britain’s royal household. Murdoch said he was told that the hacking issue had been safely ‘packed away’ by the time he took control of News International, the British arm of media giant News Corp.
‘I was given repeated assurances ... that the newsroom had been investigated, that there was no evidence’ of more hacking, Murdoch said at the beginning of his highly anticipated appearance before a judge-led inquiry into media ethics here.
The inquiry was set up last summer after the hacking scandal broke wide open with the revelation that the News of the World had illegally accessed the voicemails left on the phone of a kidnapped teenager. The girl, 13-year-old Milly Dowler, was later found slain.
Police now say the now-defunct News of the World pried into the private voicemails of potentially hundreds of people, including actors, athletes, politicians and family members of murder victims and fallen soldiers.
In his sworn testimony, Murdoch insisted he would have ‘cut out the cancer’ of hacking if he had known that the practice went beyond a single reporter to encompass other journalists at the News of the World. He denied that he was part of a corporate cover-up, but also rejected a suggestion that he was guilty of poor management for not knowing what was going on at one of his newspapers.
The paper’s editor and its legal manager were responsible for making sure employees complied with ethical standards, Murdoch said. He also did not participate in editorial decisions, he said.
‘I wasn’t in the business of deciding what to put in the newspapers,’ Murdoch testified.
Both Rupert and James Murdoch were called before a parliamentary committee to answer questions on the hacking scandal last July.
Scotland Yard is now pursuing three separate investigations into voicemail interception, computer hacking and payoffs of police and public officials for information.
Dozens of journalists from the News of the World and its sister tabloid, the Sun, have been arrested in connection with the various probes. Britain’s chief prosecutor is considering whether to file formal charges against 11 of them.
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-- Henry Chu