Murdoch's moment: What's at stake for News Corp. in phone-hacking hearings(VIDEO)
Media barons Rupert and James Murdoch, as well as Rebekah Brooks, testify in Britain's House of Commons today in the wake of outrage over revelations of widespread phone-hacking and influence-peddling at News Corp.
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The public drama of members of Parliament questioning the executives draws comparisons to the Elizabethan sport of “bear-baiting … a powerful, blinded beast maddened by small dogs,” notes British barrister Geoffrey Robertson, who also points out that, unlike committee members in the US Congress, members of Parliament cannot conduct a serious cross-questioning.Skip to next paragraph
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“I wouldn’t underestimate the Murdochs," says Martin Moore, of the London-based Media Standards Trust, an advocacy group for press reform. "They’ve agreed to testify and they must feel they have a compelling story to tell and the ability to do effectively.”
The senior Murdoch is being looked to for his knowledge of the hacking practice, and analysts say that his sincerity and contrition will be important. As the scandal developed, he told The Wall Street Journal, part of the Murdoch empire, that he had no regrets about anything. Then last Friday, he switched tactics and engineered a full-page ad in British dailies that read “We Are Sorry.”
With James Murdoch, questions may focus on his knowledge of hundreds of thousands of dollars paid to investigators, particularly one Glenn Mulcaire, known to obtain information by hacking or other means. The younger Murdoch also signed off on nearly $1 million in a hacking settlement in 2008.
For Brooks: what did she witness and sanction as the editor in charge of News of the World during its hacking heyday?
Mr. Moore says the immediate questions are whether police were paid off, whether News Corp. executives covered up evidence, and whether its executives lied to the House of Commons in previous inquiries. Yet any full answering of such questions will depend more on the talents and terms of the judicial inquiry that Cameron initiated, rather than one afternoon with the “Wapping Three,” he adds.
One unanswered question is whether the arrest of Brooks this week will allow her and the two Murdochs to artfully dodge direct answers, and to say they would like to answer fully but that ongoing investigations prevent them from doing so.
The scene of some of the most powerful players in shaping British opinion and politics now being brought to account as their empire loses value daily (Standard & Poor has put News Corp. on a credit watch) is an extraordinary symbol.
Only 20 days ago, it appeared that Murdoch, with the help of Cameron, would breezily conduct a takeover of the rest of the British Sky Broadcasting (BSkyB) satellite TV firm. Instead, the hacking revelations that focused first on a 13-year old murdered girl, Milly Dowler, whose voice mail was erased by hackers in hopes of getting more information, giving the family misguided hopes, brought unexpected moral rage by the public.
In its wake, Murdoch closed the 168-year old NotW and focused on the more lucrative BSkyB but then withdrew his bid as the British mood turned against him and political allies ran for cover as the scandal spread.