Rupert Murdoch Tells UK Media Ethics Probe He Never Asked for Political Favors
By The Wall Street Journal
LONDON -- News Corp. Chairman and Chief Executive Rupert Murdoch on Wednesday faced a recitation of criticisms that have piled up at his door during a long career, including allegations he uses his company's newspapers to collect political favors and push his commercial interests.
Murdoch's reply: They're all "myths."
The 81-year-old mogul appeared before a judge-led UK public inquiry into press ethics that is examining the use of illicit reporting tactics and allegations that journalists are too cozy with politicians.
In four hours of testimony under oath, Murdoch repeatedly said he hadn't asked prime ministers, or would-be prime ministers, for favors and said his commercial interests didn't influence where his newspapers stood on issues or political parties.
appearance was likely a prelude to a return visit Thursday, when Murdoch is expected to face questioning about the long-running phone hacking scandal that has battered the company and prompted the inquiry.
On Wednesday, Murdoch conceded "abuses" had occurred at his company, referring to both phone hacking and other illicit reporting tactics. But he also distanced himself from some of the activities, insisting, "We have a very large company and I do run that company with a great deal of decentralization."
The appearance came the day after his son James Murdoch, News Corp.'s deputy chief operating officer, was grilled about allegations the company was too close to Jeremy Hunt, the British government minister who oversaw a regulatory review of what would have been the company's biggest deal ever -- its effort to gain full control of British Sky Broadcasting Group PLC.
That dust-up claimed a political casualty Wednesday when Adam Smith -- a special adviser to Hunt -- resigned over his role in the regulatory consideration. Emails between Smith and a News Corp. aide suggested a tight alliance between the two sides.
At Wednesday's session, the inquiry's lead questioner, Robert Jay, led Murdoch through the company's publishing history in Britain, which dates back to its 1968 acquisition of the News of the World.
Jay asked Murdoch about often-cited criticisms that he has allegedly sought to use his sizeable media presence to influence politicians, spanning from Margaret Thatcher to David Cameron.
"I've never asked a prime minister for anything," said Murdoch.
Jay pressed Murdoch on his endorsement of Cameron and his Conservative Party in the 2010 election just before News Corp. launched its BSkyB bid. Specifically, Jay asked the media mogul whether the endorsement was motivated by a desire to install a government he thought would be friendly to approving the deal.
Murdoch dismissed the assertion as "a complete myth."
Some of those who have done battle with Murdoch over the years disputed elements of his accounts. Murdoch testified that, after The Sun withdrew its support for then-prime minister Gordon Brown in 2009, Brown said News Corp. had "declared war on my government and we have no alternative but to make war on your company."
Brown shot back Wednesday afternoon, saying Murdoch was "wholly wrong" and that he didn't speak to the News Corp. executive about the decision.
News Corp. also owns The Wall Street Journal and NewsCore.