Murdoch to answer phone-hacking questions

UK parliamentary committee to grill media baron on alleged crimes at one of the newspapers published by his company.


    Rupert Murdoch, the global media baron, has bowed to pressure from Britain's parliament to answer questions over alleged crimes at one of his newspapers, the Reuters news agency reports.

    Reuters did not give details but said Murdoch had initially said he would not face questions from parliament's media committee over phone hacking at newspapers published by his UK newspaper company, News International.

    News International, a subsidiary of the US-based News Corporation, which Murdoch heads, publishes The Times, Sunday Times and The Sun. A fourth paper, the News of the World, was shut down last week over the scandal.

    The about-turn will set the stage for a showdown with MPs who are keen to break Murdoch's grip on British politics, Reuters reported.

    Murdoch, 80, has already been forced to back down on his plan to acquire BSkyB, the pay TV operator in which News Corporation has a 39 per cent stake, due to an outcry over allegations that reporters accessed private phone messages.

    The hacking victims include a British teenager murdered in 2002 and whose phone voicemail was hacked into; members of the British royal family; and relatives of British servicemen killed in Iraq and Afghanistan.

    The parliamentary committee investigating the scandal had said it would issue a summons in a bid to compel Murdoch to attend.

    Ex-editor arrested

    Murdoch said his son James Murdoch, a senior executive with News International, could appear at the hearing at a later date, while Rebekah Brooks, the company's chief executive, has agreed to testify.

    The committee will begin hearings next week.

    In the widening investigation into phone hacking, Neil Wallis, a former deputy editor of the News of the World, was arrested on Thursday.
    The 60-year-old, the ninth man to be arrested since the inquiry was reopened this year, was held at an address in London on suspicion of conspiring to intercept communications.

    The scandal has forced Murdoch's News Corp to shut down the News of the World tabloid [GALLO/GETTY]

    Nick Clegg, Britain's deputy prime minister, said Murdoch had big questions to answer about accusations of eavesdropping and police bribery at his British papers.

    "If they have any shred of sense of responsibility or accountability for their position of power, then they should come and explain themselves before a select committee," Clegg said in an interview with BBC radio.

    He said it was unclear whether the committee could compel attendance by Murdoch, who is a US citizen.

    News International made no immediate comment.

    The latest suspect arrested in the case, Wallis, worked from 2003 to 2007 under Andy Coulson, the former editor who was arrested on July 8 and freed on bail until October.

    Coulson was the communications director of David Cameron, the UK prime minister, from 2007 until his resignation in January this year over the scandal.

    Murdoch's hope of making BSkyB a wholly owned part of his News Corporation empire collapsed on Wednesday in the face of what Cameron called a "firestorm" that has engulfed media, police and politicians.

    Wide-ranging inquiry

    Cameron has appointed a judge for a wide-ranging inquiry into the News of the World scandal and wider issues of media regulation.

    The inquiry will also look into the relationship between politicians and media and the possibility that illegal practices are more widely employed in the industry.

    "It clearly goes beyond News International," Clegg said.

    "It is clearly something much more systemic, I don't think we should allow ourselves to believe that it is just because of the Murdochs, or Rebekah Brooks, or it's all about one commercial transaction, however significant."

    Shares in BSkyB steadied on Thursday, rising 0.6 per cent to $11.43 in early trading in London. The shares closed higher on Wednesday for the first time since they began falling sharply last week amid fresh phone hacking allegations.

    Across the Atlantic, US politicians are paying close attention to allegations reported in British media that journalists working for Murdoch may have hacked into the phones of victims of the September 11, 2001, attacks on New York and Washington, as Al Jazeera's John Terrett reports from Washington DC.

    Murdoch's US-based media outlets include the Wall Street Journal, the New York Post and Fox News TV Channel.

    SOURCE: Al Jazeera and agencies


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