James Murdoch Testifies At Media Ethics Inquiry

News Corp. chairman Rupert Murdoch and his son James are to appear this week before a panel investigating the practices, culture and ethics of British press. The Murdochs are expected to be asked about the extent of their knowledge of phone hacking by their newspapers.

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RENEE MONTAGNE, HOST:

The scandal that's engulfed Rupert Murdoch's News Corp is taking center stage in London, at the Royal Courts of Justice, once again. Here, his son James Murdoch.

JAMES MURDOCH: I swear by the mighty God that the evidence I shall give shall be the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth.

MONTAGNE: The younger Murdoch is answering questions about the phone hacking scandal that involves a tabloid newspaper owned by News Corp, the company that his father controls. James Murdoch recently gave up his leadership post overseeing News Corp's British newspapers and his position as chairman of the British satellite broadcasting giant BSkyB. One question is whether News Corp used its relations with British politicians to advance a big corporate acquisition involving BSkyB. NPR's Phil Reeves joins us from London. Good morning.

PHILIP REEVES, BYLINE: Good morning.

MONTAGNE: So, bring us up to date with the inquiries and what has been, you know, doing up to now?

REEVES: Well, the hearing was hardly a few minutes old before James Murdoch was fielding some very meticulous, very persistent questions about phone hacking at the News of the World. He said that when he took over - when he took control of the company that runs his father's British newspapers, he'd been assured that the hacking was confined to one rogue reporter and a private investigator called Glenn Mulcaire. At issue, though, is whether Murdoch - James Murdoch - in fact, knew much more than that, whether he new that hacking was endemic at the paper and covered this up.

He was repeatedly asked about an email, dating back to 2008, that showed that hacking was going on on a far wider scale. He repeatedly denied seeing that email until much later. And then Robert Jay, counsel to the inquiry, finely summarized the core issue.

ROBERT JAY: Do you accept, at least, this: There are two possibilities here. (Unintelligible) to decide in due course, either you were told about the evidence which linked others at News Of The World to Mulcaire, and this was, in effect, a cover up; or you - you weren't told or you didn't read your emails properly and there was a failure of governance within the company. Do you accept that those are the only two possibilities?

MONTAGNE: So break that down a little bit, for us, Phil. The core issue - this is a key issue - what has that relate to the core issues in this inquiry?

REEVES: Well, the core issues are now becoming James Murdoch's relationship with British politicians, and one politician in particular: Jeremy Hunt, the British Culture Secretary. Hunt was basically the minister who was responsible, awhile back, for deciding whether Murdoch's News Corp would be allowed total control of the very lucrative British satellite broadcasting company, BSkyB, in which it currently has a minority controlling stake. This is a big deal for the Murdochs. Jay - the man we just heard from, the counsel to the inquiry - has been reading, in the last hour or two, a lot of emails that pass between Jeremy Hunt's office to James Murdoch's public affairs advisor, a guy called Fred Michel. One of these includes a statement in which Michel tells Murdoch that J.H. - presumably, Jeremy Hunt - believes we're in a good place tonight.

And in another one, there's an email in which he confides that he's passing confidential information, illegally, although James Murdoch said that was a joke. This is a big issue here and the betting shops are already taking bets. In fact, they've stopped taking bets, and so, many of them, as to whether Jeremy Hunt will soon be leaving government.

MONTAGNE: And just briefly, what did James Murdoch look like today, in court?

Well, he, you know, he's got increasingly confident. He was rather tense when he began, and at times, somewhat ill tempered. But he's become more confident and he's been arguing very strongly.

Phil, thanks very much. NPR's Phil Reeves, speaking from London. This is NPR News.

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