By Richard Allen Greene, London (CNN): Media tycoon Rupert Murdoch said he does not believe in journalists using phone hacking or private detectives, calling it “a lazy way of reporters doing their job,” as he was grilled Wednesday about press ethics and his political influence in Britain.
He denied using the power of his press for personal gain, saying his newspapers did not lobby for his commercial interests and he had “never asked a prime minister for anything.”
Even as he was speaking, British Prime Minister David Cameron said politicians from across the political spectrum had been too close to the powerful media baron over the years.
“I think we all, on both sides of this house, did a bit too much cozying up to Mr. Murdoch,” he told the House of Commons as his government was battered over testimony Murdoch’s son had given the day before.
James Murdoch testified at the Leveson Inquiry Tuesday that he had had drinks with Cameron at a pub before Cameron became prime minister and dined with him once he was in office.
Inquiry lawyer Robert Jay pressed James Murdoch over the extent of his contact with politicians as the company moved to take full ownership of satellite broadcaster BSkyB, a bid that collapsed because of the phone-hacking scandal.
Evidence published Tuesday suggests that News Corp. was getting inside information from the government minister with the power to approve or block the acquisition, Culture Secretary Jeremy Hunt.
An aide to Hunt resigned Wednesday, saying his contacts with Murdoch representatives had gone beyond what the culture secretary had authorized.
But Hunt told the House of Commons he would not quit.
Rupert Murdoch spent Wednesday morning fending off Jay’s efforts to demonstrate that Murdoch wielded considerable influence over British politicians.
He was particularly insistent that there had been no quid pro quo with Tony Blair as Murdoch’s papers switched support from the Conservative party to Blair’s Labour party in 1997 — not long before Blair swept into power as prime minister.
“I, in 10 years in his power there, never asked Tony Blair for any favors and never received any,” Murdoch said, pounding his hand on the table for influence.
“I take a particularly strong pride in the fact that we’ve never pushed our commercial interests in our newspapers,” said Murdoch, who owns the Sun and the Times in London, the New York Post and Wall Street Journal, and papers in Australia as well as television stations and book publishers.
And he said he does not hold a grudge against Cameron, who established the probe into press ethics to which Murdoch gave testimony. The panel was created in response to phone hacking at Murdoch’s News of the World tabloid.
Murdoch said rumors that he could not forgive Cameron for setting up the Leveson Inquiry are “untrue.”
James Murdoch insisted before the Leveson Inquiry Tuesday that he knew little about the scale of phone hacking by people working for the News of the World, as he continued his fight to limit the damage the scandal does to him and his family’s media empire.
The scandal has reverberated through the British political establishment, led to dozens of arrests on suspicion of criminal activity and forced News Corp. to pay hundreds of thousands of pounds in compensation to the victims of phone hacking.
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James and Rupert Murdoch have been hammered over the past year about what they knew about phone hacking by people working for them.
Underlings did not tell James Murdoch how pervasive the practice was when he took over News Corp.’s British newspaper publishing arm, he testified Tuesday.
He agreed with a suggestion that the reason was because they knew he would put a stop to it.
“I think that must be it, that I would say, ‘Cut out the cancer,’ and there was some desire to not do that,” he told the Leveson Inquiry.
Former Murdoch employees testified earlier that they told him about the problem.
The younger Murdoch has already been called twice to testify before British lawmakers and resigned from a number of top management positions at British subsidiaries of his father’s media empire.
He and his father have always denied knowing about the scale of phone hacking, which police say could have affected thousands of people, ranging from celebrities and politicians to crime victims and war veterans.
James Murdoch said Tuesday that he had no reason to look into illegal eavesdropping by his employees when he took over the company’s British newspaper subsidiary in December 2007.
A News of the World reporter and a private investigator had been sent to prison that year for hacking the phones of the staff of Princes William and Harry, but Murdoch said he had been assured that the problem went no further.
“I was not told sufficient information to go and turn over a whole bunch of stones that I was told had already been turned over,” he said. “I don’t think that, short of knowing they weren’t giving me the full picture, I would’ve been able to know that at the time.”
The journalist who went to prison, Clive Goodman, had been saying that phone-hacking went beyond his case, Leveson Inquiry counsel Robert Jay said.
“I was not aware of that,” Murdoch replied.
He acknowledged meeting with Cameron and his predecessor as prime minister, Tony Blair, but denied having lobbied them improperly about his family’s business interests.
And he denied having made a “crass calculation” about how The Sun’s endorsement of Cameron’s Conservative party before the 2010 elections would affect News Corp.
Dozens of people have been arrested in criminal investigations into phone and e-mail hacking and police bribery, and police asked prosecutors last week to charge at least eight people.
The suspects include at least one journalist and a police officer, the Crown Prosecution Service said, declining to name them.
No charges have been filed, and the Crown Prosecution Service said it did not know when a decision would be made about charges.
In addition to the Leveson Inquiry, two parliamentary committees also are looking into media conduct.
James Murdoch, 39, resigned as chairman of British Sky Broadcasting this month, saying, “I am determined that the interests of BSkyB should not be undermined by matters outside the scope of this company.” However, News Corp. still has a controlling stake in the company.
Rupert Murdoch testified before lawmakers in July alongside his son.
News Corp. shut down its British Sunday tabloid, The News of the World, last summer after public outrage at the scale of illegal eavesdropping its journalists did in search of stories.
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