James and Rupert Murdoch will be back in the eye of the storm this week as they appear in front of the Leveson Inquiry in the UK.
They will give evidence in London’s august Royal Courts of Justice about the links between News International, News Corp’s UK newspaper wing, UK politicians and UK public officials. James appears on Tuesday between 10 a.m. and 4:30 p.m. BST (5 a.m. and 11:30 a.m. New York time), while Rupert’s testimony will take place on Wednesday and Thursday, the longest time for any witness at the inquiry yet. The Leveson Inquiry was set up by Prime Minister David Cameron to examine media ethics following phone hacking, and is headed by a senior UK judge.
Allegations of payments to public officials such as prison officers and police, which have been a key feature of the Leveson Inquiry so far, could damage News Corp if they are deemed to break the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act in the U.S. News Corp could also be hit by phone hacking lawsuits from victims in the U.S.
There are several key differences from last July’s appearance in front of a committee of UK members of parliament – and not just them hope among many that there will be no pie assault this time around.
First, there have been a number of new revelations about the activities of News International. Old allegations of a News Corp subsidiary using Internet piracyto undermine rivals, hotly denied by the company, have resurfaced.
The specter of email hacking may be more difficult to chase away. Sky News, part of BSkyB , admitted hacking into emails in two instances just days after James Murdoch stepped down as chairman of the company. The evidence obtained in both cases was passed on to the police in 2008, and has not led to the prosecution of Sky or the reporter involved. British regulator Ofcom is currently investigating the email hacking.
On Monday, John Ryley, head of news at Sky News, admitted to the inquiry that Ofcom guidelines don’t allow broadcastors to break criminal law.
The style of questioning is also likely to be more forensic and precise than that of the committee of MPs.
And the attitude of Rupert Murdoch in particular could be different. In July, he famously began by saying how humble he felt, as allegations that News of the World reporters hacked into a murdered schoolgirl’s voicemail led to an outpouring of criticism.
This time around, he’s recently been more outspoken about his critics, and has used social networking site Twitter to rail against “old toffs and right wingers who still want last century's status quo with their monopolies.”
The Sun, his favorite among his UK newspapers, has been avidly jumping on the UK government’s every misstep, with the recent “pasty tax” a prime example.
Both Murdochs are likely to repeat that they knew nothing about how widespread phone hacking was at News International.