Britain’s David Cameron faces grilling on hacking crisis
Prime Minister David Cameron
will be grilled by parliament on Wednesday about his decision to
employ a former tabloid newspaper editor caught up in a
phone-hacking scandal that has rocked Britain’s establishment.
The scandal, centred on Rupert Murdoch’s News Corpglobal
media empire, has forced the resignations of senior executives
at the company and two of Britain’s top policemen as well as
fuelling opposition attacks on Cameron’s judgment.
The 80-year-old Murdoch was attacked by a protester with a
foam pie when he appeared before a parliamentary committee on
Tuesday and made a “humble” apology for the scandal but refused
to resign. He said staff who “betrayed” him were at fault.
Analysts said Murdoch’s televised apology had now put the
spotlight on how Cameron emerges from scrutiny in the emergency
parliamentary debate over the scandal, which has included
allegations of hacking into a murdered schoolgirl’s voicemail
and the phones of British troops killed in combat.
The scandal is unlikely to bring down Cameron, in office for
less than 15 months, but could make it harder for him to manage
a Conservative-led coalition that is focused on quick deficit
reduction, which has labour unions threatening mass strikes.
Cameron cut short a trip to Africa for the debate, with the
opposition Labour Party determined to put him on the rack over
why he employed Andy Coulson, a former editor of Murdoch’s News
of the World tabloid, since shut down over the scandal.
“The Murdochs can say they apologised unreservedly, they
faced the music, (and) they endured a personal physical attack,”
said Andrew Hawkins of polling company Comres.
“It puts the attention firmly back on the political
ramifications and, in particular, David Cameron and his judgment
over the whole Andy Coulson issue,” said Hawkins.
Labour leader Ed Miliband has already put pressure on
Cameron over Coulson, who resigned as editor of the News of the
World but denied any wrongdoing after two people employed by the
newspaper were convicted of phone-hacking in 2007.
Then opposition leader Cameron appointed Coulson as his
communications chief that year and kept him on becoming prime
minister in May 2010. He has said he gave Coulson the job
because there was no evidence of his involvement in hacking.
Coulson quit his government role in January when police
launched a new investigation, and Miliband turned up the heat on
Cameron when the former editor was arrested for questioning
earlier this month and then freed on bail.
Speaking in Nigeria before flying home, Cameron signalled a
desire to push the agenda away from a scandal that has dominated
every debate for two weeks.
“The British public want something else too,” Cameron said.
“They don’t want us to lose our focus on an economy that
provides good jobs, on an immigration system that works for
Britain, a welfare system that is fair for our people.”
Calling it “the most humble day of my life”, Murdoch
defended his record and that of his son and top News Corp
executive James, and said he could not know everything all his
53,000 employees did.
James, 38, sat beside him before parliament’s media
committee, interjecting on occasion as his father hesitated to
give answers on what he knew about hacking and payments made to
some of those involved.
But as three hours of at times testy proceedings
drew to a close, a man rose from the public seating of the
packed committee room and lunged at the elder Murdoch with a
paper plate of white foam.
The Australian-born mogul’s 42-year-old wife Wendi
Deng leapt up to slap the protester in a melee before he was
seized by police. He was identified as a left-wing comedian.
After a short recess, Murdoch was told by one legislator he
had shown “immense guts”. Another legislator, long one of
Murdoch’s most bitter critics, jokingly complimented his wife on
her “very good left hook”.
That televised cameo, and the Murdochs’ personal remorse and
will to clean up the mess at News Corp’s British newspaper unit
News International, may ease public fury aimed at a man who has
been courted and feared by British leaders for decades.
Wednesday’s newspaper front pages were dominated by
pictures of the scuffle and some used “humble pie” in headlines.
Commentators were divided between those who felt both
Murdochs acquitted themselves well and others who felt the elder
looked out of touch, even “a broken man”.
Shares in News Corp rose over 5.5 percent in New York,
recovering some of their previous losses.
Australian Prime Minister Julia Gillard said on Wednesday
the local arm of News Corp would have to answer questions after
the phone-hacking in Britain.
Murdoch shut down the 168-year-old News of the World and,
faced with political outrage, dropped a $12-billion bid to buy
out other shareholders in British pay-TV network BSkyB.
Having published apologies in newspapers and met the parents
of murdered schoolgirl Milly Dowler, Murdoch took pains to read
out a further emotional statement of regret after the hearing.
Murdoch said he had been “very” misled by his staff.
“I would like all the victims of phone-hacking to know how
completely and deeply sorry I am,” he said.
Police say they are probing the hacking of messages of
possibly 4,000 people.
Asked if he felt he should resign, Murdoch said: “No. I feel
that people I trusted, I’m not saying who, I don’t know on what
level, have let me down and I think they behaved disgracefully,
betrayed the company and me and it’s for them to pay.”
His son said they did not believe the two most senior
executives to have resigned, Rebekah Brooks and Les Hinton, knew
of any wrongdoing. Brooks, 43, who once edited the News of the
World, was arrested and bailed by police on Sunday.
Brooks told a later session of the same hearing she
wanted to apologise for the scandal and denied knowing the
private investigators at the heart of the allegations.
Two of Britain’s most senior policemen quit this week over
the appointment of a former News of the World deputy editor as a
consultant, the failure to widen inquiries into phone-hacking
after the initial case ended in 2007, and allegations that
officers had accepted payments.