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Rupert Murdoch Appears Before Parliament Panel


It's MORNING EDITION from NPR News. I'm Steve Inskeep


And I'm Mary Louise Kelly, in for Renee Montagne.

One of the most powerful media barons in the world has stepped into the spotlight. Rupert Murdoch is appearing, right now, before a committee of Britain's Parliament. He's fielding questions about how much he knew about the phone-hacking scandal that's shaken his empire to the core.

(Soundbite of Rupert Murdoch's Hearing)

Mr. RUPERT MURDOCH (Chairman and CEO, News Corporation): I would just like to say one sentence. This is the most humble day of life.

KELLY: That's Rupert Murdoch, addressing the parliamentary committee. His son, James, a key player in his media empire, is also appearing.

NPR's Philip Reeves is in London, tracking this morning's development. Good morning, Phil.

PHILIP REEVES: Good morning.

KELLY: All right. So classic questions being asked this morning about how much the Murdochs knew, when they knew it. Bring us up to speed on exactly what's happening.

REEVES: Well, the hearing began some 40 minutes ago, and it really is quite extraordinary. Rupert Murdoch is coming over as elderly, as out of touch; there are a long pauses when he's asked - questioned. His son, James, repeatedly is trying to jump in to field these questions for him. At times, it seems very awkward at the...

KELLY: It was several minutes into the hearing before Rupert Murdoch spoke at all.

REEVES: That's right. At the beginning, James was quizzed about why he's admitted now that the company's misled parliament in previous evidence given to the committee. He said critical new facts emerged during the production of evidence and civil trials at the end of last year.

But the real drama began when Rupert Murdoch came under questioning. He came under to questioning by a guy called Tom Watson, who's a Labour MP who's been leading the campaign over phone hacking. Watson asked him about remarks made by Rebekah Brooks - until recently, the head of Murdoch's newspapers in Britain - in 2003, when she admitted that News International paid the police. Did you investigate at the time? Watson asked Rupert Murdoch. Murdoch replied, no. Can you explain why? Watson asked. I didn't know, said Rupert Murdoch.

And then Murdoch said look, the News of the World is less than 1 percent of the company that he owns and runs. He said he employs 53,000 proud, great, ethical and distinguished people, as he described them. And he was hitting his hand on the desk as he did so.

Watson also asked him about the case of a chief reporter from the News of the World who was found guilty of blackmail. And again, Murdoch knew nothing about this - or at least, he said he knew nothing about this. He was asked about endemic phone hacking at the News of the World. Endemic is a tough word, said Murdoch. But he then said he was absolutely shocked, appalled and ashamed when he heard, two weeks ago, about the case in Britain of Milly Dowler. That's the murdered schoolgirl whose phone was hacked into by the News of the World.

KELLY: So it sounds like he's still carrying on very much with this defiant tone we've heard from Rupert Murdoch in his few public remarks, up 'til today. You mentioned Rebekah Brooks, until very recently the head of Murdoch's newspapers in Britain. She is still expected to speak to the same committee later today, is that right?

REEVES: She is due to appear after Rupert and James Murdoch. She's also a key player in this drama. There'll be immense interest in what she has to say. She was chief executive of News International until she resigned last week. She's very close to the British prime minister, David Cameron, and many other people at the top of public life in Britain. She was arrested on Sunday on suspicion of intercepting communications, and also on suspicion of corruption. And she was the editor of the News of the World when that Milly Dowler case happened. She's going to be asked about that. It's not clear how much she's going to say, given the fact that she was arrested at the weekend.

KELLY: And tell us a little bit, Phil, about how - what the scene is like there in London this morning. Are people absolutely riveted by this questioning unfolding?

REEVES: I think many people in London are absolutely riveted by it in the world of politics, in the world of the media. This is, you know, one of the biggest political dramas - or dramas involving public life in Britain for many years. So the mood is one of intense excitement. That that might not extend to the general public, has to be said. But it is a huge story here. You know, it goes right to the heart of core institutions in the country - relations between the police, the government and Rupert Murdoch's empire. And millions of people are thought to be watching this live on TV, here.

KELLY: That's NPR's Philip Reeves, updating us on the questioning unfolding before a committee of Britain's Parliament this morning. Rupert Murdoch and his son, James, appearing. Phil, thanks so much for the update. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Mary Louise Kelly is a co-host of All Things Considered, NPR's award-winning afternoon newsmagazine.
Philip Reeves
Philip Reeves is an award-winning international correspondent covering South America. Previously, he served as NPR's correspondent covering Pakistan, Afghanistan, and India.