Murdoch: newspaper sell-off claims are 'pure rubbish'

Rupert Murdoch has dismissed claims that his News Corporation is considering selling off its remaining newspaper assets as “pure and total rubbish”.

In an interview with the Wall Street Journal, which is owned by News Corp, a defiant Murdoch also said he would challenge the “total lies” issued about News Corp in the phone-hacking scandal when he appears before MPs next week.

The 80-year-old media mogul bowed to pressure yesterday and agreed to give evidence to the Commons Culture, Media and Sport Committee on Tuesday, having previously said he was unavailable to attend.

In his Wall Street Journal interview he said he wanted to address “some of the things that have been said in Parliament, some of which are total lies”.

He added: “We think it’s important to absolutely establish our integrity in the eyes of the public… I felt that it’s best just to be as transparent as possible.”

Despite the massive outcry over the allegations centring on the now defunct News of the World, Murdoch insisted that the damage to his company was “nothing that will not be recovered”.

He said News Corp would now establish an independent committee, headed by a “distinguished non-employee” to investigate all charges of improper conduct.

However, the pressure intensified with the disclosure that the FBI has opened in inquiry into claims the News of the World sought to hack the phones of the victims of the 9/11 terror attacks.

Congressman Peter King, the chairman of the House Homeland Security Committee who asked the FBI to investigate, said it was the “American dimension” of the phone-hacking scandal.

“This could be a criminal matter. The FBI handles criminal investigations,” he said.

Murdoch also hit back at Gordon Brown over claims that the News International papers, including the Sunday Times had illegally obtained information about him and his family.

He said the former prime minister “got it entirely wrong” adding that “the Browns were always friends of ours” until The Sun withdrew its support for Labour before the last election.

Asked if he was aggravated by all the negative publicity it had attracted in recent days, he said he was “just getting annoyed”. He added: “I’ll get over it. I’m tired.”

Met under pressure

Meanwhile Scotland Yard was also under pressure to explain how it came to employ a former News of the World journalist arrested in the phone-hacking investigation as a PR consultant.

Neil Wallis, 60, who was deputy editor under Andy Coulson’s editorship, was detained in a dawn raid on his west London home yesterday and questioned for several hours at Hammersmith police station.

While he was being held the Yard admitted that it had paid him £24,000 to work as a two-day-a-month public relations consultant. His contract was cancelled less than six months before the Operation Weeting investigation into phone hacking was launched.

Home Secretary Theresa May fired off a letter to Metropolitan Police Commissioner Sir Paul Stephenson demanding an explanation.

Sir Paul was also summoned for what was described as a “very frank discussion” with London Mayor Boris Johnson lasting almost an hour and a half.

The commissioner will now give evidence to the Commons Home Affairs Committee – which is looking at the police investigation – on the same day as the Murdochs appear.

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