LONDON (AP) - Embattled media mogul Rupert Murdoch caved in to pressure from Britain's Parliament Thursday as he and his son James first refused, then agreed, to appear next week before lawmakers investigating phone hacking and bribery by employees of their British newspaper empire.
The abrupt U-turn _ and the arrest of another former editor of the scandal-sunk tabloid News of the World _ deepened the crisis for Murdoch’s News Corp., which has seen share prices shaken as investors ask whether the scandal could drag down the whole company.
Lawmakers took the dramatic step of issuing a summons to the once all-powerful Murdochs after the father and son said they would not appear before Parliament’s Culture, Media and Sport Committee on Tuesday. Within hours, the Murdochs made room in their schedules after all.
“We are in the process of writing to the select committee with the intention that Mr. James Murdoch and Mr. Rupert Murdoch will attend next Tuesday’s meeting,” News Corp. spokeswoman Miranda Higham said.
The committee later confirmed it had received a letter confirming their attendance.
It was another victory for politicians over the Murdochs _ something that would have been all but unthinkable just two weeks ago.
Murdoch began his media career in Australia in 1952 after inheriting “The News” newspaper after the death of his father, and has built News Corp. into one of the world’s biggest media groups, with market capitalization of $46 billion. Assets include Fox News, the 20th Century Fox movie studio, The Wall Street Journal, The New York Post and three newspapers in Britain _ down from four with the death of the News of the World.
For decades, British lawmakers lived in fear of the influence of Murdoch’s media empire. With the revelation of widespread criminal hacking, and the public revulsion that followed, Parliament has been liberated, flexing its muscles in a display of freedom some are calling the “British Spring.”
Business Secretary Vince Cable said Thursday the fast-moving events were “a bit like the end of a dictatorship.”
Near-unanimous political opposition in Parliament forced News Corp. on Wednesday to withdraw its bid for highly profitable network British Sky Broadcasting. On Thursday, Parliament’s Culture, Media and Sport committee said it had issued summonses for the Murdochs after they declined to appear Tuesday.
Rebekah Brooks, who heads the company’s British newspaper division, did agree to testify. She was editor of the News of the World at the time of some of the hacking, but says she knew nothing about it.
It is highly unusual for witnesses to refuse to appear before parliamentary committees, which quiz everyone from business leaders to prime ministers on a wide range of issues.
Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg said that if the Murdochs had “any shred of sense of responsibility or accountability,” they would testify.