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LONDON — News Corp chairman Rupert Murdoch will make a return engagement later this year in front of a committee of the British parliament to answer questions after last week’s emergence of secretly recorded comments he made to the staff of tabloid The Sun about bribes in the British newspaper industry and the phone-hacking probes.
The select committee on culture, media and sports of the parliament’s House of Commons said Tuesday that it was looking for further evidence after his July 2011 hearing in front of the same committee. Before Murdoch’s return for more questions, which is expected to take place this fall, industry observers have been discussing what questions members of the committee may have in store for Murdoch.
“I can’t prejudge what other committee members may wish to ask Mr. Murdoch, but I think the questions are pretty obvious,” committee member and Labour Party representative Ben Bradshaw told THR. “You would ask for an explanation about the stark difference in his evidence to the committee and under oath to the Leveson Inquiry [into media standards and ethics] and what he is recorded saying to staff. Both can’t be true.”
He added that “he clearly expressed himself very differently … in a number of areas.” So, the feeling of the committee members was “they wanted to be absolutely clear that Mr. Murdoch wasn’t saying one thing to us and something completely different privately to staff,” the parliamentarian explained.
Confronted with questions about the phone-hacking scandal in front of the committee in 2011, Murdoch had said: “This is the most humble day of my life.” That day, a comedian also tried to shove a shaving-cream pie into the mogul’s face as wife Wendi Deng jumped to his defense. Murdoch recently filed for a divorce.
Pressed to explain the mogul’s comments on the secret tape that were of biggest concern to him, Bradshaw said: “First, he ridiculed and showed contempt for the inquiry. He made it clear that his company was substantially no longer cooperating with the [police] investigation. He appeared to give a comment to staff that he would look after them even if they were convicted of a criminal offense. And he implied that he knew and condoned the illegal payments to police officers for information over a long period of time.”
Added the parliamentarian: “[That is] all very different from his contrition in public and both, the select committee hearing and the public inquiry, where he said paying police officers for information is wrong. And he said it was the most humble day of his life.”
Some observers interpreted his comments to Sun staff that the company had been wrong to help the police probes into phone-hacking and bribes as long as it did and that the newspaper industry had used bribes for decades as signaling that he had long been aware of the use of bribes by his staff. News Corp has said he only tried to connect with the staff and wasn’t aware of any wrongdoing at the firm before it became public.
Bradshaw said he couldn’t talk about details of the committee’s discussions that led to the decision to invite Murdoch again. But he emphasized that “the committee has been conducting an inquiry into the whole phone-hacking issue” amid an “ongoing high level of public interest in this country.”
“Mr. Murdoch welcomes the opportunity to return to the select committee and answer their questions,” a spokesman for News Corp’s British newspaper unit News UK, formerly known as News International, had said on Tuesday. “He looks forward to clearing up any misconceptions as soon as possible.”
Asked how important the issue was compared to the committee’s other work, Bradshaw told THR: “This has been a very high-profile inquiry by the committee that helped lead to a public judicial inquiry and criminal trials. So, it has been a very important piece of work.”
While he wouldn’t predict what Murdoch may tell the committee, the parliamentarian did mention that “the last time he came, there was the celebrated incident of [Wendi] rushing to his defense.” Quipped Bradshaw: “She won’t be there to do that this time. “
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