- - Tuesday, July 19, 2011

LONDON — Rupert Murdoch on Tuesday apologized but also denied responsibility for the phone-hacking scandal, which is roiling British journalism, during a parliamentary committee inquiry where the media magnate was assaulted with a shaving cream pie.

Facing a panel of British lawmakers, Mr. Murdoch, CEO of the global media empire News. Corp., and his son, James, underwent three hours of questioning about allegations that reporters in their employ had intercepted cellphone messages of thousands of people and had paid police for information.

“This is the most humble day of my life,” Rupert Murdoch, 80, said in his opening comments.

With long pauses between statements, he answered in short sentence fragments and took pains throughout the session to point out that British newspapers are a small part of his global operations — and that the now-defunct News of the World tabloid, where the phone-hacking is alleged, was an even smaller part.

“I didn’t know of it. This is not an excuse, maybe it’s an explanation of my laxity,” the elder Mr. Murdoch said when asked why he did not investigate the tabloid’s former editor’s 2003 admission that reporters had paid police for information. “The News of the World is less than 1 percent of this company. It employs 53,000 people around the world.”

Asked by opposition Labor Party lawmaker Tom Watson whether he had been “misled” by senior employees, Rupert Murdoch said: “Clearly.”

“I feel that people I trusted let me down,” he said. “They behaved disgracefully. They betrayed the company and me and they should pay.”

In contrast, James Murdoch, chairman and chief executive officer of News Corp.’s European and Asian operations, seemed eager to answer questions and clarify matters.

James Murdoch, 38, told the committee that his father was not informed that his company had paid sums as high as $1.1 million to settle lawsuits by phone-hacking victims.

James Murdoch said his father became aware of the matter “in 2009 after a newspaper report. It was a confidential settlement.”

The phone-hacking scandal has wreaked havoc on News Corp. and London police this month: This 168-year-old News of the World was shuttered, and its former editor, Rebekah Brooks, resigned as chief of the corporation’s News International. Two senior police officials also have resigned over their links to a former tabloid editor.

Ms. Brooks, who was arrested Sunday in the police phone-hacking investigation, also was called on to testify before a parliamentary panel about the scandal on Tuesday.

She said she had never met the man at the center of the phone-hacking storm, private detective Glen Mulcaire.

Mr. Mulcaire was jailed in 2007, along with News of the World royals editor Clive Goodman, after being convicted of illegally intercepting the messages of aides to the monarchy.

Near the end of the Murdochs’ testimony, a protester tried to attack Rupert Murdoch with a shaving cream pie. Wendi Deng, Rupert Murdoch’s wife, leaped to her husband’s defense, and police removed the protester from the room.

The session was suspended for about 10 minutes and the public was barred from the room when the panel reconvened.

The attack is thought to be the work of a self-styled activist and comedian using the pseudonym “Jonnie Marbles.”

Minutes before the attack, a message was posted on the social-networking website Twitter: “It is a far better thing that I do now than I have ever done before #splat.”

c Ms. Osbourne reported from London, and Mr. Walsh from Belfast.

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