LONDON: James Murdoch has blamed subordinates for keeping him in the dark about illegal behaviour while he ran father Rupert’s UK newspaper empire, and said he didn’t closely read its ill-fated tabloid, the News of the World.
James, 39, once seen as the heir apparent to his father’s News Corp business, was grilled at a high-profile judicial inquiry into Britain’s press culture, set up in the wake of revelations that the News of the World had illegally hacked into phone messages on an industrial scale to get scoops.
Yesterday’s inquiry, ordered by Prime Minister David Cameron, will also examine the relationship between the Murdochs and politicians to establish whether these ties helped journalists feel above the law.
Australian-born Rupert Murdoch, 81, who has seen the scandal erode the formidable political influence he wielded in Britain for four decades, was due to appear before the inquiry today and tomorrow.
Investigations into the scandal have focused on what James Murdoch knew about the illegal phone hacking, especially when he agreed to a large payout to settle a legal claim.
He has consistently maintained that the paper’s management failed to alert him to the scale of the problem.
He was driven into London’s Royal Courts of Justice past a bank of photographers and broadcast trucks to testify under oath in an inquiry which has gripped the British public.
Asked if he read the weekly News of the World, he said: “I wouldn’t say I read all of it,” and asked about its daily sister paper, the Sun, he said he had “tried to familiarise myself with what was in it”.
The two papers were the biggest sellers in Britain before the Murdochs shut the News of the World at the height of the scandal last year. They have since replaced the News of the World with a Sunday edition of the Sun.
“I wasn’t in the business of deciding what to put in the newspapers,” he said.
James Murdoch has spent most of his career in pay-television. He was new to the newspaper business when dealing with the phone-hacking, unlike his father, who long had a reputation for pulling the strings at papers that boasted their endorsements decided the outcome of elections.
Media consultant Steve Hewlett, who has been closely following the inquiry, said of James Murdoch’s testimony: “His lack of engagement with the nuts and bolts of the business – journalism and content – is quite remarkable. I’m not saying it’s not genuine, but it’s quite remarkable.”
James Murdoch became chairman of News International in 2007 when he took on the wider job of leading Rupert’s News Corp in Asia and Europe. He has argued that the newspaper division was merely a small part of the job and that he could not have been expected to know about the criminality at the title.
Senior managers at the paper have said that they told him of the scope of the problem in an e-mail while they were negotiating a legal settlement, but he says he never read it in full. – Reuters