London - Rupert Murdoch’s tetchy and uncompromising
appearance at a British inquiry into phone hacking could come back to haunt him
this week when politicians give their verdict on the scandal at his defunct
News of the World newspaper.
Three days of grilling at the Leveson judicial press inquiry
last week extracted few new facts from Rupert and his son James as the
81-year-old casually threw out insults at politicians and described himself as
a victim of a corporate cover-up.
That appearance will only increase pressure on a powerful
parliamentary committee to be harsh in its verdict on the scandal, putting
Murdoch’s News Corp further on the defensive.
“The timing of the select committee report, following the
week we’ve just had at Leveson, is crucial,” a person familiar with the
thinking and mechanics of the committee, told Reuters.
“Anyone putting their name to an amendment that supports
Rupert and James, or dilutes the criticism of Rupert and James, would look very
different now than they would have done a week ago.”
Another person familiar with the situation said the report
had become much more critical in recent months.
The committee will meet on Monday to vote and agree the
final wording for the report, which had originally been expected late last
year. It will be published on Tuesday.
Murdoch shut the 168-year-old News of the World in July
after journalists and investigators admitted hacking the phones of ordinary
people, crime victims and politicians to gather exclusive and salacious news.
The evidence from the Leveson inquiry could particularly
increase the pressure on members of the committee from Prime Minister David
Cameron’s Conservative party, traditionally seen as close to the world’s most
powerful media tycoon.
The release of emails between James Murdoch and his top
London lobbyist suggesting possible influence over the government led to the
resignation of a senior ministerial aide and demands for the minister himself
The committee is expected to criticise James Murdoch for his
handling of News Corp’s British newspaper arm and is considering whether to
implicate Rupert Murdoch for his influence over the wider company culture.
A tough report could make it harder for 39-year-old James
Murdoch in his role as News Corp’s deputy chief operating officer after the
damage the company has already taken to its value and reputation.
Committee members believe Murdoch staff have shown little
respect for the parliamentary system and accused them at one point of suffering
from “collective amnesia”.
Since the committee has to be careful of criticising any of
the people arrested over phone- and computer-hacking and bribery to avoid
prejudicing court cases, the criticism of the Murdochs may be even more
They have not been arrested.
Rupert Murdoch told the Leveson inquiry on Thursday that
staff within the News of the World had hidden the hacking scandal from himself,
James and ex-News of the World editor Rebekah Brooks, a protegee of his.
He put the blame on the journalists and the paper’s former
top lawyer and said he wished he had shut the paper sooner. He brushed off any
suggestion that he could be held responsible for a culture that allowed
criminality to flourish.
“I think Rupert showed his true lights... belligerent,
testy, laying the blame everywhere but himself and passing the buck,” Roy
Greenslade, who worked under Murdoch at the Sun and Sunday Times, told Reuters.