News Corp. Chairman Rupert Murdoch told lawmakers he “used the wrong adjectives” to describe the police investigation into phone hacking and bribery when speaking to staff on his British newspapers in a secretly recorded conversation.
Keith Vaz, the chairman of Parliament’s Home Affairs Committee, wrote to Murdoch July 12, asking him to say why he thought the probe is “a disgrace” and why he appeared to say in the recording that the company is forcing the police to get court orders to obtain information. Vaz’s intervention came three days after Murdoch agreed to testify again about the scandals to a separate parliamentary panel.
“I accept that I used the wrong adjectives to voice my frustration over the course of the police investigation,” Murdoch wrote to Vaz in a letter published by the Home Affairs Committee yesterday. “I have no basis to question the competence of the police and I and our newspapers respect the work they do every day to protect the public. But I do question whether, over the last two years, the police have approached these matters with an appropriate sense of proportion.”
Police have made more than 100 arrests, including former News Corp. journalists and staff, in probes of wrongdoing at the company’s U.K. publications triggered by the discovery two years ago that the now-defunct News of the World Sunday tabloid listened to messages on the mobile phone of a murdered teenager. News Corp. split its broadcast and newspaper units into different companies following the scandal.
Vaz also asked Murdoch to account for remarks by Metropolitan Police Assistant Commissioner Cressida Dick, who told the committee on July 9 that News UK, News Corp.’s British unit, had “significantly reduced” its cooperation with officers.
Murdoch, 82, told Vaz his company had supplied police with 500,000 documents after 185,000 man-hours of work at a cost of more than 65 million pounds ($99 million). He said that more than 98 percent of the Met’s 1,900 follow-up requests for information had been answered. “It would not be fair even to suggest that our company has impeded” the police, he wrote.
The News Corp. chairman described the transcript of the March meeting, which shows him telling reporters at the Sun newspaper that bribery had been a routine practice, as “selective.” It was obtained by Exaro News from a journalist who secretly recorded the conversation.
In one section of the transcript, Murdoch tells his staff, some of whom have been arrested in the bribery probe: “Payments for news tips from cops: that’s been going on a hundred years, absolutely. You didn’t instigate it.” He said one of the first things he saw when he bought the News of the World in 1969 was a safe full of money that he was told was for bribes. Vaz didn’t ask Murdoch to comment on those remarks.
Murdoch has agreed to appear again before Parliament’s Culture Committee later this year and “looks forward to clearing up any misconceptions,” New York-based News Corp. said July 10.