Early in Rupert Murdoch‘s testimony today, he said “Someone took charge of a cover-up which we were victim to and I regret.” He was talking about the phone hacking scandal at the News Of The World on his 2nd day of giving evidence to the Leveson Inquiry into UK press ethics. Questioned on the cover-up, Murdoch said he thinks it came from inside the newspaper, from a “friend of the journalists, a drinking pal” who was a lawyer “who forbade people to go and report to (Rebekah) Brooks or to James (Murdoch).”
Although today’s affair touched on politics and the aborted bid for BSkyB, the proceedings focused more heavily on phone hacking than any of the other days of Murdoch testimony this week. Counsel for the inquiry Robert Jay and Lord Justice Leveson spent a great deal of time trying to work out how high the knowledge of questionable journalistic tactics went at the paper. Leveson pressed Murdoch at one point saying, “Print ink was running through your veins…this wasn’t just a commercial interest…this was the very core of your being, so that’s why you’re being asked: were you not intensely concerned about what was going on?” Murdoch replied that some papers are closer to his heart than others, “but, I also have to say that I failed,” he added. When asked why he closed NOTW rather than “tough it out,” he answered that when the Milly Dowler situation was first given huge publicity, “you could feel the blast coming in the window and I’ll say it succinctly, I panicked.”
In other salient comments, Murdoch said it was a common thing in life to say “if you scratch my back, I’ll scratch yours,” but he denied that extended to his relationship with politicians. On the political front, Murdoch was questioned about Jeremy Hunt and said he can’t remember ever meeting him. Hunt is the Culture Secretary who came under fire on Tuesday when email exchanges between his office and James Murdoch’s office were revealed during the younger Murdoch’s testimony. Murdoch also noted that the scandal has cost him “hundreds of millions of dollars” and beleives the BSkyB deal would have gone through had it not been for the hacking scandal. He noted that his competitors were lobbying for the deal not to pass “and of course they never would have succeeded if it hadn’t coincided with the hacking scandal.”
Today was the last day of Murdoch testimony before Justice Leveson, but it’s not the end of the road for the embattled family and its press interests. There are about 50 new civil hacking claims to be dealt with as well as a potential victim list of nearly 5,000 people. In the U.S., meanwhile, UK lawyer Mark Lewis has teamed with two New York firms to represent at least four people, including one US citizen, who may have had their privacy violated by Murdoch-owned properties. And UK regulator Ofcom is still deciding whether James Murdoch and News Corp are “fit and proper” persons to oversee BSkyB.