Murdochs Questioned Before British Parliament

Rupert Murdoch and his son James fielded questions about the phone hacking scandal that brought down their tabloid the News of the World. The elder Murdoch told Parliament that because the paper makes up such a small part of his company, he lost track of the tabloid and its actions.

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NEAL CONAN, host: Rupert Murdoch and his son, James appeared before a parliamentary committee in London today and fielded a barrage of questions about who's responsible for the phone hacking scandal that brought down their tabloid, News of the World. The hearing lasted over three hours. As the scandal develops, we thought you'd like to hear some of what they had to say. We'll play substantial excerpts of the accusations, apologies and sometimes tense exchanges that came during the hearing which the media mogul called the most humble day of his life. We'll begin near the end. Just before the last member of parliament was to begin her questions, Rupert Murdoch was accosted by a man carrying a plate of white foam.

(SOUNDBITE OF COMMOTION AT HEARING)

CONAN: A protester splattered Rupert Murdoch with what looks like shaving cream. The attack led to a 10-minute break before the hearing resumed. Both Murdochs, Rupert and James, took their seats around 9:30 this morning, Eastern Time. Labour MP, Tom Watson, began the hearing with an intense round of questions directed at the 80-year-old media mogul.

(SOUNDBITE OF HEARING)

TOM WATSON: You've repeatedly stated that News Corps has a zero tolerance to wrongdoing by employees. Is that right?

RUPERT MURDOCH: Yes.

WATSON: In October 2010, did you still believe it to be true when you made your Thatcher speech, and you said, let me be clear. We will be vigorous - we will vigorously peruse the truth, and we will not tolerate wrongdoing?

MURDOCH: Yes.

WATSON: So if you were not lying then, somebody lied to you. Who was it?

MURDOCH: I don't know. That is what the police are investigating, and we are helping them with.

WATSON: But you acknowledged that you were misled?

MURDOCH: Clearly.

WATSON: Can I take you back to 2003? Are you aware that in March of that year Rebekah Brooks gave evidence to this committee admitting paying police?

MURDOCH: I am now aware of that. I was not aware at the time. I am also aware that she amended that considerably very quickly afterwards.

WATSON: Well, I think she amended it seven or eight years afterwards. But did you or anyone else...

MURDOCH: I'm sorry.

WATSON: Did you or anyone else at your organization investigate at that time?

MURDOCH: No.

WATSON: Can you explain why?

MURDOCH: I didn't know of it. I'm sorry. I'm - if can just say something? And this is not as an excuse, maybe it's an explanation of my laxity. The News of the World is less than one per cent of our company. I employ 53,000 people around the world who are proud and great and ethical and distinguished people, professionals in their lives. And perhaps - and I'm spread watching and appointing people whom I trust to run those divisions.

CONAN: A reference there to Rebekah Brooks, the former editor of News of the World. You can hear Murdoch there banging his hands on the table as he spoke. Watson continued to press Rupert Murdoch with questions about the culture of the news organization he oversaw.

(SOUNDBITE OF HEARING)

WATSON: Mr. Murdoch, at what point did you find out that criminality was endemic at the News of the World?

MURDOCH: Endemic is a very hard - is a very wide-ranging word, and I also had to be extremely careful not to prejudice the course of justice which is taking place now. That has been disclosed. I became aware as it became apparent of the first two. And then I was absolutely shocked, appalled and ashamed when I heard about the Milly Dowler case only two weeks ago, eight days before I saw them. I was graciously received by the Dowlers.

WATSON: Did you read our last report into the matter where we referred to the collective amnesia of your executives who gave evidence to our committee?

MURDOCH: I haven't heard that, but...

WATSON: Nobody brought it to your attention?

MURDOCH: I don't know who made that particular charge, but just...

So the parliamentary inquiry found your senior executives in the U.K. guilty of collective amnesia and nobody brought it to your attention? I don't see why you...

No.

WATSON: ...think that's not very serious.

MURDOCH: Yes, but you're really not saying amnesia. You would be saying lying.

WATSON: Well, we found your executives guilty of collective amnesia. I would have thought someone would like to bring that to your attention, that it would concern you. Did they forget?

MURDOCH: No. (Unintelligible).

CONAN: Labour MP Jim Sheridan asked Rupert Murdoch if he knew whether or not the phones of 9/11 victims in the United States were hacked as well, whether the hacking scandal had spread across the Atlantic.

(SOUNDBITE OF HEARING)

JIM SHERIDAN: It's understood that the FBI are investigating 9/11 victims. Have you commissioned an investigation into these allegations?

MURDOCH: We have seen no evidence of that at all. And as far as we know, the FBI haven't either. If they do, we will treat it exactly the same way as we treat it here. And I cannot believe it would have happened to anyone in America, whether someone at the News of the World, Mr. Mulcaire took it on himself to do it. I don't know. There are certainly unnecessary insensitivity by the...

JAMES MURDOCH: I would like to talk...

SHERIDAN: I'll come back to you James in a minute. But I just want to clarify, there's the - if these allegations are in anyway true whatsoever, will you commission an investigation into them?

MURDOCH: Absolutely.

SHERIDAN: OK. Also, you must be horrified by the scandal and the fact that it has caused you with these - by the transaction and led to the closure of the News of the World. Who do you blame for that?

MURDOCH: Well, a lot of people had different agendas, I think, in trying to build this hysteria. All our competitors in this country formally announced a consortium to try and stop us, and they caught us with dirty hands and they built a story around.

CONAN: BSkyB, British Sky Broadcasting, Murdoch dropped his bid to take over sole ownership of the broadcasting network after the phone hacking scandal erupted last week. The scandal puts into question his ability to continue growing his media empire. You're listening to TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News.

Rupert Murdoch also faced questions about where the line should be drawn in investigative journalism.

(SOUNDBITE OF HEARING)

DAMIAN COLLINS: You said earlier on that we live in a transparent society. Do you think it's right that people in public life can expect total privacy with a society like that?

MURDOCH: No.

COLLINS: And where do you think is the limit of that line? I'm interested in the Watergate investigation, for example. Personal banking and phone records were used - belonged to one of the witnesses were relevant to an investigation. And so to extent do you think the use of confidential, private information, even phone records, even phone hacking is permissible in the pursue of a news story?

MURDOCH: I think phone hacking is something quite different, but I do believe that investigative journalism, particularly competitive, does lead to a more transparent and open society inconvenient as that may be to many people. And I think we are a better society because of it, and I think we are probably a more an open society than even the United States.

COLLINS: Where do you draw the line with that going on? Where are the boundaries in the investigation? What's out of bounds?

MURDOCH: Well, there was a great - (unintelligible) would have been a terrible outcry then the - I'm sorry to say this - and I know not your circumstances or anyone else around here - when the Daily Telegraph bought a series of stolen documents all of the expenses of MPs, it caused a huge outcry - one of which I feel has not been properly addressed. I think there's an answer to it, and we ought to look at them as open and clear society of the world, which is Singapore, where every minister gets at least $1 million every year, and the prime minister a lot more, and there is no temptation. And it is the cleanest society that you could find anywhere.

COLLINS: Good luck in finding that, sir (unintelligible).

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

CONAN: Murdoch in one of the few light moments of the testimony suggesting Singapore as the exemplar for the construction of society. Though Rupert Murdoch denied knowing about the actions that led to the accusations against News Corp., he did admit he was familiar with the case of Clive Goodman, a former News of the World reporter arrested and jailed for intercepting mobile phone messages from the royal family.

(SOUNDBITE OF HEARING)

COLLINS: He said earlier on that you were aware of the situation when Clive Goodman was sent into prison and you were on vacation out of state. In the years after that, that's where there were numerous reports, investigations, hearings in this committee, which we heard a lot about today, did any senior politicians that you're in contact with or you were in contact during that period of time raise this as an issue with you, raise concerns about phone hacking.

MURDOCH: Absolutely never.

(SOUNDBITE OF HEARING)

CONAN: MP Louise Mensch was the last member of parliament to question the Murdochs. She resumed her testimony after a protester splattered Rupert Murdoch with the white foam, apparently shaving cream. Several top executives at News Corp. have resigned in the wake of the phone hacking scandal. She asked why Rupert Murdoch himself did not follow suit.

LOUISE MENSCH: You in fact are the captain of the ship. You are the chief executive officer of the News Corp., the global corporation. You...

MURDOCH: Yes. I ran a much bigger ship, but yes.

MENSCH: It is a much bigger ship, but you are in charge of it. And as you said in earlier questions, you do not regard yourself as a hands-off chief executive. You work 10 to 12 hours a day. This terrible thing happened on your watch. Mr. Murdoch, have you considered resigning?

MURDOCH: No.

MENSCH: Why not?

MURDOCH: Because I feel that people I trusted, I am not saying who - I don't know what level - let me down. And I think they behaved disgracefully and betrayed the company and me. And it's for them to pay.

CONAN: The hearing with Rupert and James Murdoch concluded earlier this afternoon after some three hours of testimony. That was followed by a separate session with Rebekah Brooks, who'd just stepped down as the chief executive of News International. More on the dramatic day of testimony later today on ALL THINGS CONSIDERED.

Tomorrow, no deal yet on the debt, though the president says they're making progress. Ken Rudin, our Political Junkie, will join us. Join us for that conversation. This is TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News. I'm Neal Conan in Washington.

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