British lawmakers to recall Rupert Murdoch for more questions over leaked recording

LONDON – British lawmakers will recall Rupert Murdoch to London for further questions about a leaked recording in which he appeared to dismiss evidence of wrongdoing at his U.K. newspaper titles, a senior parliamentarian said Tuesday.

The recording — obtained by the ExaroNews website and broadcast on Britain’s Channel 4 — caught Murdoch describing the allegations against his journalists as “next to nothing,” boasting that his lawyers were refusing to actively co-operate with investigators, and speaking dismissively about accusations of bribery levelled against his newspaper empire.

“We’re talking about payments for news tips from cops,” he was quoted as saying. “That’s been going on a hundred years.”

The recording — allegedly made secretly when Murdoch addressed staffers from The Sun newspaper back in March — made waves in Britain because it appeared to be at odds with Murdoch’s vigorous public condemnations of illegal behaviour at his newspaper titles. When Murdoch last appeared before parliamentary committee members, just after the scandal over phone hacking broke two years ago, he struck an apologetic tone, saying the appearance was “the most humble day of my life.”

Hacking phones or corrupting police officers to win scoops was “totally wrong,” he told lawmakers at the time. “There is no excuse for breaking the law at any time.”

John Whittingdale, who chairs the House of Commons’ Culture, Media and Sport Committee, said his colleagues voted Tuesday to recall Murdoch for questions over the recording. In a brief telephone interview, Whittingdale said the committee’s letter inviting Murdoch back had not yet been sent and that he could not provide any details on when the mogul would be asked to reappear.

News UK, the British newspaper arm of Murdoch’s media empire, referred questions to News Corp. in the United States, which declined to comment.

News UK — until recently known as News International — has been in crisis ever since the scandal exploded.

A slew of police and parliamentary investigations into voicemail interception, bribery, computer hacking, and the use of private investigators have led to the arrests, resignations, or prosecutions of dozens of journalists, executives, and other employees. Murdoch was forced to close his top-selling Sunday tabloid, the News of the World, shortly after the scandal broke, and morale at its sister paper, The Sun, has been battered by bribery charges levelled against some of its most senior editors.

In the recording, Murdoch appears to promise his staffers he’ll look after them no matter what.

“I will do everything in my power to give you total support, even if you’re convicted and get six months or whatever,” he was quoted as saying. “What you’re asking is, what happens if some of you are proven guilty? What afterwards? I’m not allowed to promise you … I’ve got to be careful what comes out — but frankly, I won’t say it, but just trust me.”

In earlier testimony given before the House of Commons’ Home Affairs Committee, Metropolitan Police Assistant Commissioner Cressida Dick told lawmakers her force was seeking a copy of the recording with an eye toward “assessing the full contents of that tape.”

She also confirmed that Murdoch’s company had ceased actively co-operating with investigators.

“Since May of this year, voluntary co-operation has been significantly reduced,” she said.

Dick also gave lawmakers an update on the investigations which sprang from the scandal. She told lawmakers there had been 126 arrests, 42 charges, and six convictions. Dick said that police don’t anticipate many more arrests, a signal that the investigations — which have so far cost more than 20 million pounds ($30 million) — may finally be winding down.

Her colleague, Commander Neil Basu, told lawmakers that police had identified 5,500 potential victims of phone hacking by journalists and their private investigators — of which 1,000 of them had been identified as “likely victims.” He also said police had identified more than 400 victims of police bribery, and said that authorities were investigating more than 150 allegations of computer hacking.