London: James Murdoch, the heir apparent to his father Rupert’s global media empire, will appear to face a second grilling on Thursday by a British Parliamentary committee investigating the phone hacking scandal at the family’s UK newspapers.
The younger Murdoch will not only be fighting to defend his family’s British newspapers but also his future at the head of it.
Almost immediately after James Murdoch appeared before Parliament in July, questions were raised over his testimony. The Murdochs had long maintained that illegal phone surveillance was limited to a rogue reporter, former royal editor Clive Goodman, and private investigator Glenn Mulcaire.
However, The Guardian newspaper revealed that the voicemail of murdered schoolgirl Milly Dowler had been illegally accessed by a private investigator working for Sunday tabloid, The News of the World. The revelation shocked the British establishment, and the newspaper was shuttered soon afterward.
In July, James Murdoch continued to maintain that he was unaware of wider allegations of illegal activity at the newspaper, but former editor Colin Myler and a lawyer for with News International, Tom Crone, contradicted the younger Murdoch.
The two former employees said that James Murdoch saw a 2005 email that alleged widespread use of illegal phone surveillance at the newspaper when as head of the UK newspaper group, News International, he authorised £700,00 out-of-court settlement with Taylor.
Crone told the parliamentary committee investigating the allegations: “It was clear evidence that phone hacking was taking place beyond Clive Goodman.” Murdoch had said in his July testimony that he never saw the damning email, but both Crone and Myler said they told the executive about the document during a 15 minute meeting in 2008.
Another News International lawyer, Jonathan Chapman, dismissed claims that Murdoch wasn’t aware of the extent of the hacking. In a letter published on 16 August, Chapman wrote: “Nobody kept Mr James Murdoch or any other News International/News Corporation executives from being in full possession of the facts.”
Murdoch will almost certainly be asked if he was shown the opinion of external lawyer Michael Silverleaf, who urged the news group to settle the Taylor case. In a document released on 1 November, Silverleaf wrote that there was “a culture of illegal information access” at the Murdoch’s UK tabloids.
After the credibility of Murdoch’s July testimony was called into question, the committee decided in September to recall him to explain the discrepancies between his testimony and those of former News International editors and lawyers.
The stakes are extremely high for Murdoch. Paul Connew, a media commentator and former tabloid editor, told the Associated Press that he expects James Murdoch to admit mistakes, but Connew added, “What I think he won’t do — can’t afford to do — is accept that he deliberately misled Parliament.”
Since Murdoch testified in July, it has been reported that 5800 people might have been targeted by News of the World phone hacking.
A former policeman said that he was paid to follow more than 100 people for the newspaper including Prince William, Prince Harry’s ex-girlfriend Chelsy Davy, Angelina Jolie, Elle MacPherson and football manager Jose Mourinho, according to a dossier obtained by the BBC. The practice is not illegal, but in the light of the phone hacking, it is seen as another ethical strike against the company.
In the past week, an editor at another of the Murdoch newspapers, The Sun, was arrested in the probe. The arrest raised the spectre that the scandal might spread to other newspapers in the Murdoch empire.
Murdoch does not have a lot of room to manoeuvre in his testimony Thursday, and MPs are likely to pressure him more than in July over what he knew and when he knew it. He will have to turn in an impressive performance to remain unscathed. The Financial Times wrote: “The assumption that James would one day replace his father at News Corp has been shattered this year.”