'Collective amnesia' on phone-hacking news to Murdoch

Rupert Murdoch repeatedly professed is ignorance about key developments in the UK arm of his empire before MPs today.

Tom Watson MP asked Murdoch if he had nvestigated the matter when former Sun editor Rebekah Wade admitted to a Commons select committee in 2003 that the paper had paid police for information.

Murdoch said: ‘No.”

He added: “I am now aware of that, I was not aware at the time. I’m also aware that she amended that considerably very quickly afterwards.”

MP Tom Watson said: “I think she amended it seven or eight years afterwards but did you or anyone else in your organisation investigate it at the time?”

Murdoch replied: “No. I didn’t know of it.”

He added: “I’m sorry, if I 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 1 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 work.

“I’m spread watching and appointing people whom I trust to run those divisions.”

Blackmail claims

Murdoch was also asked about the Max Mosley privacy case, in which the judge Mr Justice Eady said the actions of News of the World chief reporter Neville Thurlbeck in his dealings with one of the women involved amounted to blackmail.

Murdoch said: ‘I’ve never heard of him.’He said that it was the first he had heard about the allegation.

Murdoch was also asked about the fact that MPs condemned News International executives for ‘collective amnesia’after evidence to the Commons culture select committee in 2009 in which they insisted phone-hacking was confined to Clive Goodman and Glenn Mulcaire. Murdoch said: ‘I hadn’t heard that.”

Gordon Taylor settlement

James Murdoch said his father was told of an out-of-court settlement with Professional Footballers’ Association chief executive Gordon Taylor for phone hacking only after it became public in 2009.

Murdoch junior said: “Please understand that an out-of-court settlement of civil claim of that nature and of that quantum is something that normally in a company of our size the responsible executives in the country would be authorised to make. It is below the approval thresholds that would have to go to my father as chairman and chief executive of the global companies.”

Not responsible

Murdoch senior denied that he was ultimately responsible for the “fiasco”.

Asked by Labour’s Jim Sheridan who was, Murdoch replied: “The people that I trusted and then, maybe, the people they trusted.”

He said he had worked with Les Hinton, who quit his role as chief executive officer of Dow Jones last week, for 52 years, adding: “I would trust him with my life.”

Number Ten meetings

Murdoch revealed he had been invited to have a cup of tea as a thank you by Prime Minister within days of the general election last year.

Asked why he entered Number Ten through the back door, he said: “I just did what I was told. That’s the choice of the Prime Minister, or their staff, or whoever does these things.

“I was asked would I please come in through the back door. I was invited within days (of the election) to have a cup of tea to be thanked for the support by Mr Cameron.”

He said he was also invited to Number Ten by former prime minister Gordon Brown “many times” and had also gone in through the back door.

He denied any “pre-conditions” were imposed on party leaders before his newspapers gave them his support.

‘Lost sight’ of News of the World

Murdoch said he had to deal with a “multitude of issues” every day, and admitted he may have “lost sight” of the News of the World.

“The News of the World, perhaps I lost sight of. Maybe because it was so small in the general frame of our company,” he said.

Asked to explain the scale of the reported £1 million payout to publicist Max Clifford over phone-hacking, Murdoch senior replied: “Apparently there was a contract with Mr Clifford that was cancelled with Mr Coulson.”

Asked whether journalists and editors at News Corp come under pressure from above to push boundaries and break the law, Murdoch said: ‘There is no excuse for breaking the law at any time.”

He added: ‘I was brought up by a father who wasn’t rich but who made it as a great journalist. Just before he died he bought a small newspaper as a chance to do good.”

He added that his father exposed ‘the scandal of Gallipoli which I’m very proud of’and he said that he would like his sons and daughters to follow that example ‘if they are interested”.

Asked whether he was now planning a ‘root and branch’review of journalistic practice across his newspapers, Murdoch said: ‘No, but I’m more than prepared to do so.”

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