Rupert Murdoch: 'This Is the Most Humble Day of My Life'
Staff Writer, CNBC.com
Rupert Murdoch, the media mogul under fire for a growing phone-hacking scandal that has upended his empire, admitted to British MPs on Tuesday: "Today is the most humble day of my life."
The billionaire News Corp. founder and his son James testified before a committee of Parliament investigating the scandal, which has escalated in recent weeks to include allegations of bribery and corruption and forced the resignation of top officials at News Corp., Scotland Yard and even the office of Prime Minister David Cameron.
The elder Murdoch said the hacking by News of the World journalists is "a matter of great regret" to everyone at the company.
"This is not an excuse, but maybe it's an explanation," Rupert Murdoch said. "The News of the World is one percent of the company. I employ 50,000 people around the world who are proud and great and ethical professionals and I appoint people who I trust to run those divisions."
He admitted, however, that he had "clearly" been misled over the extent of phone hacking and responded "I don't know" when asked who lied to him.
Rebekah Brooks, who last week resigned as head of News Corp.'s British newspaper operations, on Tuesday joined her former bosses Rupert and James Murdoch in apologizing to the British parliament for a hacking scandal.
"I would like to add my own personal apologies to the apologies that James and Rupert Murdoch have made today," Brooks told Parliament Tuesday. "Allegations of voice intercepts, internet intercepts of victims of crime is pretty horrific and abhorrent and I wanted to reiterate that."
Brooks said she never "knowingly sanctioned a payment to a police officer" and never had contact with Glenn Mulcaire.
In front of the MPs, Rupert Murdoch was far from the intimidating figure some have claimed.
The 80 year old frequently asked for questions to be repeated, indicating that his hearing is failing. His speech often faltered, and his son stepped in several times to try and deflect the MPs attention towards himself.
Yet the position of James Murdoch, once viewed as the heir apparent to his father, could be threatened by the allegations.
The scandal over hacking into voicemails started off with complaints by Prince William and the actress Sienna Miller, and has spiralled to include a murdered schoolgirl and the families of British soldiers killed during the war in Afghanistan.
It has already caused a sizeable dent in the Murdoch family fortune, with the value of the family’s News Corp. holdings down to about $4.96 billion from almost $6 billion at the start of July. The company's share price regained some of its lost ground during the hearing, and gained around 5 percent from Monday's close.
The abandonment of a planned bid for the 61 percent of BSkyB News Corp did not already own, which had been viewed as a fait accompli, has helped dent the share price.
Abandoning the BSkyB bid came about because "a mood developed which made it really impractical to go ahead," Murdoch said.
"They caught us with dirty hands," he added.
Rebekah Brooks, who climbed to the top of News International and was the former editor of the News of the World and The Sun, is due to testify later on Tuesday. She was arrested on suspicion of intercepting communications and corruption after resigning on Friday.
Son James said that he had "no evidence" that either Brooks or Les Hinton, the head of News Corp.'s Dow Jones unit who also resigned Friday, had any awareness of the extent of phone hacking.
His father said: "I was absolutely shocked, appaled and ashamed when I heard about the Milly Dowler case only two weeks ago."
Milly Dowler was the murdered schoolgirl whose voicemail was hacked by News of the World journalists. After her murderer was convicted, her family announced that her phone had been hacked, opening the floodgates on a torrent of new allegations.
Asked why the company had not investigated further, Rupert Murdoch said: "It's not our job to get in the course of justice. It's the police's job."
While his son tried to interrupt MPs several times suggesting that he would be more qualified to answer questions about the European operations of News Corp, most were directed straight at the elder Murdoch.
When pressed on why he closed the News of the World last Sunday, with the loss of 200 jobs, Murdoch said: "We had broken our trust with our readers."
He also defended the British tabloid press, saying: "This country does greatly benefit from having a competitive press and therefore having a very transparent society. That is sometimes very unwelcome to people but I think we're much better for it."
Both Murdochs said there were no immediate plans to replace the News of the World with a new Sunday tabloid.
In contrast to reports that he has a grip of iron on his publications, Rupert Murdoch insisted he only spoke to the editor of the News of the World once a month, and the editor of The Sunday Times every Saturday.
The editor of the Wall Street Journal, which he acquired from the Bancroft family, gets the most face time with him.
The 80 year old added that he still works a 10-12 hour day.
When asked about allegations that journalists had hacked the phones of 9/11 victims, he said: "I cannot believe it happened."
Standard & Poor's has put the company's debt on "ratings watch negative".