British Judicial Panel Questions Rupert Murdoch

In Britain Wednesday, media mogul Rupert Murdoch appears before a panel to testify about contacts with leading British politicians at a time when his News Corp. was trying to takeover broadcasting group BSkyB. On Tuesday, Murdoch's son appeared before the same panel.

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RENEE MONTAGNE, HOST:

Rupert Murdoch was in a London court today, following his son, James, testimony yesterday. The owner of one of the world's largest media conglomerates was questioned under oath in a judicial inquiry stemming from a phone-hacking scandal. Rupert Murdoch is under scrutiny for how his various News Corp. businesses might have sought favors from top British politicians. Today, Murdoch rejected suggestions that he wields undue political influence in Britain. And for more, we're joined from London by NPR's Philip Reeves.

And Phil, tell us what he said in his appearance today. What was the most important - things he said?

PHILIP REEVES, BYLINE: Well, Murdoch spent much of the day just defending himself against general allegations that he used the influence of his mass-selling, British tabloid paper The Sun to get favorable treatment for his media conglomerate. He said that was a lie. He said that if he was seeking commercial advantage, The Sun would always endorse the same political party, the Conservatives, as they're more business friendly. He's been questioned about the acquisition of the London Times and the Sunday Times, way back in 1980, when Margaret Thatcher was in office - a right-wing prime minister whom he greatly admired.

Buying those papers gave him a very large chunk of the British media market. At the time, it was highly controversial. There were people who felt it violated monopoly laws. Now the counsel to the inquiry, Robert Jay, probed Murdoch about whether he sought assistance from Thatcher in securing that takeover.

RUPERT MURDOCH: I've never asked a prime minister for anything.

ROBERT JAY: But you operated at a far more sophisticated level - doesn't it? You see her, you seek to demonstrate to her - she probably knew it anyway - that you were precisely on the same page, politically, as her; that you were one of us. And the understanding was that to the extent to which she might help, she would. Is that not fair?

MURDOCH: No. I didn't expect any help from her, nor did I ask for any.

REEVES: And the inquiry's been exploring Murdoch's relationships and his meetings with other prime ministers, including the current prime minister, David Cameron. This included one occasion when Cameron was diverted from a holiday in Turkey, to be flown by Murdoch's son-in-law for a meeting on a private yacht. Murdoch said all politicians go out of their way to impress the press.

He was also questioned about his dealings with former Prime Minister Tony Blair, who's godfather of one of Murdoch's children. And he became quite irritable at that point - banging the table, saying he never received any - any favors from Blair.

MONTAGNE: Now, he returns to the stand tomorrow. What do you expect he'll be asked about then?

REEVES: Well, you know, we haven't yet got to the issue that led to all of this in the first place, which was rampant, illegal phone hacking. So I imagine that he'll be asked about that and about the management culture at his newspapers, and whether there was a cover-up over this.

MONTAGNE: Well, just very briefly, while this has all been going on - there's a political storm over evidence that emerged at the inquiry yesterday, when James Murdoch testified.

REEVES: Yes. James is a key figure in the Murdoch empire, and he appeared at the same inquiry. And some extraordinary evidence surfaced in the form of a stack of emails. These are a running dialogue between James Murdoch's lobbyist and the office of a British cabinet minister called Jeremy Hunt. That minister was the man overseeing the outcome of a huge deal - Murdoch's attempts to take over BSkyB.

The emails suggest Hunt's office was covertly helping the Murdochs. Hunt's appeared today, before a very stormy session of Parliament - said he did nothing wrong. But the aide involved in that correspondence has resigned.

MONTAGNE: Phil, thanks very much.

REEVES: You're welcome.

MONTAGNE: NPR's Philip Reeves, speaking to us from London.

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