News International chief James Murdoch denied Thursday that he was aware of widespread phone-hacking practices at News of the World, saying two former executives at the now defunct newspaper had misled a British parliamentary committee investigating the scandal.
“I believe this committee was given evidence by individuals either without full possession of the facts, or now it appears in the process of my own discovery... it was economical,” Murdoch told members of the Commons Culture, Media and Sport Committee, where he gave evidence for a second time.
He was referring to former News of the World editor Colin Myler and legal chief Tom Crone, who had said that Murdoch was aware as long ago as 2008 that phone-hacking was not limited to just one reporter at News of the World.
“Certainly in the evidence they gave to you in 2011 in regard to my own knowledge, I believe it was inconsistent and not right, and I dispute it vigorously,” added Murdoch, the son of News Corporation chief Rupert Murdoch.
Labour Party lawmaker Tom Watson responded, “Mr. Murdoch, you're the first mafia boss in history to not know he was running a criminal enterprise.”
Watson went on to suggest that News of the World had operated a pact like the Mafia's code of silence known, as “omerta,” a charge that Murdoch said was “offensive and not true.”
Murdoch said, “Mr Watson, please, I think that's inappropriate.”
Watson conceded after the hearing that it was possible that Murdoch was not aware of the scale of hacking at the newspaper.
“It is plausible that he didn't know but if he didn't know, he wasn't asking the questions that a chief executive officer should be asking,” Watson said. “Either he wasn't doing his job properly as the chief officer of the company or he did know.”
In 2008, Murdoch approved a payment of over 700,000 pounds (1.1
million dollars) to football boss Gordon Taylor, a hacking victim who had in his possession an email showing that the practice was widespread at News of the World.
News of the World executives Myler and Crone told the probe that they had informed Murdoch of the email during a meeting to discuss the payment for Taylor.
Pressed by another committee member to pledge that The Sun newspaper, which is also owned by News International, would be closed down if it was proved that its reporters were also involved in phone-hacking, Murdoch did not rule out that possibility.
The BBC quoted Murdoch as telling the committee that the recent arrest in connection with the hacking probe of a Sun journalist, who caused a sensation when he revealed the story of Britain's Prince Harry wearing a Nazi uniform, was a matter of “great concern.”
“I think it is important to not prejudge the outcome of any investigation. Nor is it appropriate to prejudge any actions the company might take,” Murdoch said.
“I don't think we can rule - and I shouldn't rule - any corporate reaction to wrong-doing out. That will be a decision taken at the time given whatever is out there,” he added.
News International closed the News of the World in July, after it emerged that the Sunday paper had illegally tapped the mobile phone of a murdered schoolgirl. - Sapa-dpa