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U-turn: Now Murdochs plan to go to Parliament
Question of the Day
LONDON (AP) — Rupert and James Murdoch said Thursday they planned to appear before a parliamentary committee investigating Britain’s phone-hacking scandal — a sudden U-turn after an extraordinary rebuff of lawmakers seeking to question them.
“The intention is to go,” spokeswoman Miranda Higham said.
Hours earlier, the Murdochs refused to appear at the hearing before the Culture, Media and Sport Committee, which is probing allegations of phone hacking and bribery by employees of the Murdochs’ newspapers.
The snub set up a confrontation between two of Britain’s most powerful men and a Parliament once seen as easily bent to their will.
Parliament on Wednesday forced the Murdochs to abandon their ambitions of purchasing the highly profitable British Sky Broadcasting network after lawmakers from all parties united to demand that News Corp. withdraw its bid.
Witnesses regularly are called to appear before parliamentary committees, which quiz everyone from business leaders to prime ministers on a wide range of issues.
Defiance of a parliamentary summons is illegal and, in theory, can be punished with a fine or jail time. In practice, such measures have been all but unknown in modern times; the House of Commons last punished a nonmember in 1957.
James Murdoch, the chief of his father’s European and Asian operations, said he was not available Tuesday but offered to appear on Aug. 10 or 11, without explaining his inability to attend earlier. RupertMurdoch said he would not appear at all, offering instead to speak before a separate inquiry initiated by Prime Minister David Cameron and led by a judge. He said he was willing to discuss alternative ways of providing evidence to Parliament.
John Whittingdale, the member of Parliament who chairs the committee, welcomed the change of course. Mr. Whittingdale earlier said that the wait was “unjustifiable.”
“It will be the first time that RupertMurdoch and James Murdoch and, indeed, Rebekah Brooks will have answered questions about this,” he told Sky News television. “They will be appearing before a parliamentary committee, so I would hope they would take it seriously and they will give us the answers that not just we want to hear, but I think an awful lot of people will want to hear.”
Meanwhile, the criminal investigation into the Murdoch empire widenened as the former deputy editor of the News of the World was arrested by detectives probing phone hacking at the defunct tabloid.
The Metropolitan Police said Neil Wallis, deputy editor under Andy Coulson from 2003 to 2007, was arrested on suspicion of conspiring to intercept communications.
Police so far have arrested seven people for questioning in their investigation of phone hacking and two others in a separate investigation of alleged bribery of police officers. No one has been charged.
Mr. Coulson, Mr. Cameron’s communications director from 2007 until January this year, was arrested Friday.
Ms. Brooks was editor of News of the World in 2002 at the time of the most damaging allegation so far — that the paper hacked into the phone of teenage murder victim Milly Dowler in 2002 and may have impeded a police investigation into the 13-year-old’s disappearance. Ms. Brooks has said she was unaware of any phone hacking at the time.
Rupert Murdoch‘s hope of making BSkyB a wholly owned part of his News Corp. empire collapsed Wednesday in the face of what Mr. Cameron called a “firestorm” that has engulfed media, police and politicians.
Mr. Cameron has appointed a judge for a wide-ranging inquiry into the News of the World scandal and wider issues of media regulation, the relationship between politicians and media, and the possibility that illegal practices are more widespread in the industry.
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