LONDON (AP) — “We are sorry” the full-page ad began Saturday, as Rupert Murdoch tried to halt a phone-hacking scandal that has claimed two of his top executives with a gesture of atonement and promises to right the wrongs committed by his now-shuttered tabloid, News of the World.
Cameron was feeling the heat Saturday after government records showed that Murdoch executives have held 26 meetings with him in since he was elected in May 2010 and were invited to his country retreat. Senior police officers also had close ties to Murdoch executives, even hiring one as a consultant who has since been arrested in the phone hacking and police bribery scandal rocking Murdoch’s News Corp.
Murdoch is struggling to contain the crisis, which has already forced him to shut down the 168-year-old News of the World, scuttled his bid for lucrative TV broadcaster BSkyB, knocked billions off the value of News Corp. and claimed the jobs of two key aides: Rebekah Brooks, CEO of his British unit News International, and Wall Street Journal publisher Les Hinton.
“We are deeply sorry for the hurt suffered by the individuals affected. We regret not acting faster to sort things out,” it said.
Murdoch was running a second ad in Sunday papers headed “putting right what’s gone wrong,” in which he promised the company would cooperate with the police inquiry and compensate hacking victims.
The public displays of contrition came after News Corp. last week hired PR firm Edelman Communications, whose clients include Starbucks and Burger King, to help with public relations and lobbying. The hiring coincided with an abrupt change in tone — as recently as Thursday Murdoch was quoted by the Wall Street Journal as saying the company had handled the crisis “extremely well in every way possible” and complaining he was “getting annoyed” at all the negative headlines.
Coulson’s stay in March came only two months after he resigned as Cameron’s communications chief amid the spiraling scandal — an invitation that critics said showed poor judgment on Cameron’s part and revealed the cozy relationship between political leaders and Murdoch’s powerful media empire.
Foreign Secretary William Hague defended the government Saturday, saying “it’s not surprising that in a democratic country there is some contact between leaders” and media chiefs.
“I’m not embarrassed by it in any way, but there is something wrong here in this country and it must be put right,” Hague told the BBC. “It’s been acknowledged by the prime minister and I think that’s the right attitude to take.”