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Cameron To Face Parliament Over News Corp. Ties


This is MORNING EDITION from NPR News. I'm Mary Louise Kelly.


And I'm Steve Inskeep. Good morning.

The phone hacking scandal facing Rupert Murdoch's media empire simmered for years. And now it's unfolding with extraordinary speed. Just a few weeks ago the scandal exploded with news that a Murdoch paper hacked the phone mail of a missing girl.

Yesterday, Murdoch and his son James were questioned by British members of parliament. This morning a group of lawmakers released a report looking into the way that allegations of phone hacking were investigated, or not really investigated, years ago, and now Prime Minister David Cameron is facing questions at a special session of parliament.

Prime Minister DAVID CAMERON (Great Britain): It has shaken people's trust in the media and the legality of what they do, in the police and their ability to investigate media malpractice, and yes, in politics and in politicians' ability to get to grips with these issues.

INSKEEP: That's British Prime Minister David Cameron, and let's go now to NPR's Philip Reeves in London. And Philip, as we listen to that tape, you hear people raising their voices in the background. Sounds like a boisterous session.

PHILIP REEVES: It is a very boisterous session. And the speaker has actually had to interrupt several times to call for order. It began with Cameron. He talked about the need for far healthier relations between the media, the police and politicians. He outlined what he's doing about it. He spelled(ph) the scope of the judicial public inquiry which he set up into all of this, which sounded quite wide-ranging, Steve. It's going to include broadcasters and social media, as well as the newspapers.

But you know, the key moment came when he turned to the part of this scandal that's really threatened to damage his position. That's his decision to hire his former communications director, Andy Coulson, who resigned, you remember, as editor of the News of the World over phone hacking at the paper.

Coulson's always said he knew nothing of the hacking, but if Coulson actually did know it, about it, Cameron said, he could expect to face severe criminal charges. Cameron said he took the old-fashioned view: people are innocent until proven guilty. But he took, also took complete responsibility for taking on Coulson, and then he added this...

Prime Minister CAMERON: Of course I regret and I am extremely sorry about the furor it has caused. With 20/20 hindsight and all that has followed, I would not have offered him the job and I expect that he wouldn't have taken it.

But you don't make decisions in hindsight. You make them in the present. You live and you learn, and believe you me, I have learned.

INSKEEP: It sounds like people didn't believe him very well there, Philip.

REEVES: That's right, yeah, and one of them being David Miliband, the leader of the Labour opposition. He responded saying that those remarks by Cameron were not good enough and he said that Cameron had been repeatedly warned about hiring this guy as his communications director, Andy Coulson, and he demanded that Cameron make a full apology now for bringing, as he put it, Coulson into the heart of Downing Street. So this really is blowing into - up into quite a big political scandal here, Steve.

INSKEEP: Would it be overstating it to suggest that Cameron is fighting for his job at this point?

REEVES: I think it perhaps would, and the reason for that is that these unhealthy relations between News International and the British political establishment also extended well into the Labour Party when they were in power under Tony Blair and Gordon Brown. So there are plenty of people now sitting in opposition who must be wondering at what point the spotlight might turn on their friendships with various high-ups within News Corporation or News International.

INSKEEP: One other quick thing, Philip Reeves. We mentioned that there was a report about police investigations over the years, and recently of phone hacking. What is that report saying about the police here?

REEVES: It's pretty damning. It talks about the original investigation, which was closed down, you recall, when two people were jailed in 2007. It's highly critical of News International. That's Murdoch's British subsidiary and the owner of the News of the World, where we, you know, know there was widespread hacking now.

I'll quote. It says: We deplore the response of News International to the original investigation. It's almost impossible to escape the conclusion they were deliberately trying to thwart a criminal investigation. Strong words. And it's also very critical of the police.

INSKEEP: Okay. Philip, thanks very much.

REEVES: You're welcome.

INSKEEP: That's NPR's Philip Reeves reporting today from London. 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.

Steve Inskeep is a host of NPR's Morning Edition, as well as NPR's morning news podcast Up First.
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.