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Thursday, July 14, 2011

Fox News Silent On Murdoch Empire Hacking Scandal (FBI Investigates)

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Murdochs to give evidence at phone-hacking hearing

Media tycoon Rupert Murdoch and his son James will attend a hearing over the phone-hacking scandal before British lawmakers next Tuesday, their company, News International, told CNN Thursday.

The House of Commons had issued the pair a summons to appear after the Murdochs initially told the Culture, Media and Sport Select Committee they could not attend the July 19 hearing.

News Corp. boss Rupert Murdoch wrote to the committee earlier that he was "not available to attend," although he said he was "fully prepared to give evidence to the forthcoming judge-led public inquiry."

That investigation was launched Wednesday by Prime Minister David Cameron in response to allegations that journalists working for Murdoch's media empire illegally eavesdropped on phone messages of thousands of people and bribed police.

James Murdoch, who heads the News International newspaper group, a News Corp. subsidiary, had said he could not appear before lawmakers before August 10 or 11.

Former News of the World editor Rebekah Brooks, who is now chief executive of News International, had already agreed to testify before the committee on July 19.

The Culture, Media and Sport Committee issued a statement saying it wanted all three to appear "to account for the behaviour of News International and for previous statements made to the committee in Parliament, now acknowledged to be false."

Some of the most serious hacking claims relate to the period when Brooks was editor of News of the World, one of News International's papers.

In a letter to the select committee, Brooks said she was available to appear "and welcome the opportunity to do so." However, she said she would not feel able to respond to questions that might prejudice the police investigation into the allegations.

Meanwhile, police announced they arrested a 60-year-old man Thursday morning in London in connection with the phone-hacking probe, the seventh person arrested in the investigation.

The suspect has not been formally named by police but the Press Association news agency reports that he is Neil Wallis, a former executive editor of the News of the World.

Wallis also served on the Press Complaints Commission, the British newspaper industry's self-regulating body, which has been broadly criticized in recent days for failing to act against press misconduct.

A Metropolitan Police spokesman confirmed to CNN Thursday that a media consultancy company owned by Wallis, Chamy Media, had been appointed to provide communications advice to the Metropolitan Police Service from 2009 to 2010.

Britain's Home Secretary Theresa May wrote to London's top police officer, Sir Paul Stephenson, Thursday evening asking for the full picture about his links to Wallis, a Home Office spokesman confirmed to CNN. The spokesman did not give his name, in line with Home Office policy.

The commissioner appeared earlier before the Metropolitan Police Authority Thursday to answer questions about Scotland Yard's investigation into allegations of phone hacking and police bribery by journalists working for News International.

Asked if he regretted his decision in 2006 to have dinner with Wallis, then deputy editor of the News of the World, Stephenson said he was confident he had acted appropriately.

"I do not believe that on any occasion I have acted inappropriately. I am very satisfied with my own integrity," he told the independent regulators' meeting.

But he acknowledged that public perceptions of such meetings between senior police and media figures could be different. At the time of the dinner, police were investigating earlier complaints of misconduct by the News of the World.

The Metropolitan Police Authority meeting followed the announcement of an independent probe into the press, including journalists' relations with police.

A relative of a Brazilian man shot dead by London police weeks after the July 2005 terror attacks is the latest to say his phone number was on a list belonging to a private investigator at the center of the phone-hacking investigation.

The family of Jean Charles de Menezes, whom officers shot dead after mistaking him for a suicide bomber, called for the prime minister to extend the inquiry into the phone-hacking scandal to look at whether police also leaked information on his case to the press.

Cameron launched the wide-ranging investigation into the British press Wednesday shortly before News Corp. withdrew its bid to take over British satellite broadcaster BSkyB.

The moves came in the wake of public and political fury at allegations that journalists working for Murdoch illegally eavesdropped on phone messages of thousands of people and bribed police.

"It has become clear that it is too difficult to progress in this climate," News Corp. Deputy Chairman Chase Carey said in announcing the company would end its attempt to increase its 39.1% share in BSkyB.

Cameron blasted Murdoch's company as he launched the high-powered inquiry, saying News Corp. executives need to focus not on taking over BSkyB, "but on clearing up the mess and getting their house in order."

He welcomed the withdrawal of the bid, which came hours before lawmakers voted across party lines to pass a symbolic measure urging Murdoch to give up his effort to take full ownership of the broadcaster, in which he already owns a controlling stake.

Opposition leader Ed Miliband of the Labour party -- who pushed the vote against the takeover -- welcomed the News Corp. decision and said it would not have happened had lawmakers not pressured Murdoch.

"The will of politicians was clear, the will of the public was clear, and now Britain's most powerful media owner has had to bend to that will," said Miliband, speaking as politicians rowdily debated the measure in the House of Commons.

Former Prime Minister Gordon Brown, whose family's private records are alleged to have been obtained by News International newspapers, said it was vital to maintain the right to a free press.

But, he said, staff at News International, a subsidiary of News Corp., "cynically manipulated our support of that vital freedom as their justification and then callously used the defense of a free press as the banner under which they marched in step, I say, with members of the criminal underworld."

The criminality was "not the misconduct of a few rogues or a few freelancers," he said, but was carried out "often on an industrial scale -- at its worst dependent on links with the British criminal underworld."

In announcing the public inquiry into press practices and ethics, Cameron said anyone "found guilty of wrongdoing -- or of allowing it -- must not only be brought to justice, they must also have no future role in the running of a media company in our country."

The judge leading the inquiry will be able to summon witnesses, including newspaper owners, and compel them to testify in public, under oath, Cameron announced.

The investigation will look at whether News International, or other newspaper groups broke the law, their relations with the police and politicians and press ethics and practices.

The aim is to "bring this ugly chapter to a close and ensure that nothing like it ever happens again," the prime minister said.

The inquiries come in the wake of the accusation that victims of phone hacking included a missing 13-year-old girl, Milly Dowler, who was later found to have been murdered.

Cameron met with the girl's family Wednesday. Miliband and Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg met with them separately earlier in the week.

The Dowlers are "delighted" by the launch of the judge-led investigation and pleased that politicians across the spectrum are working together on the issue, the family's lawyer, Mark Lewis, said after the meeting with Cameron.

Miliband hammered Cameron for having hired a former top News International journalist to be his communications director after the editor left his newspaper, News of the World, in the wake of one of its journalists going to prison over phone hacking.

The editor, Andy Coulson, insisted he knew nothing about the crime but resigned from News of the World because it happened on his watch. Coulson resigned as Cameron's spokesman this year when the scandal blew up afresh.

Journalists are accused of attempting to bribe police officers for information -- including personal contact details for members of the royal family -- in addition to the violation of privacy allegations.

The News of the World, which was Britain's best-selling newspaper, folded Sunday over other allegations of illegal breach of privacy at the order of James Murdoch.

The police officer leading the investigation said Tuesday they had identified 3,870 potential targets of phone-hacking and had notified 170 of them. The officer, Sue Akers, said a team of 45 police were going through 11,000 pages of documents seized from a private investigator working for News of the World.

The documents contain some 4,000 cell phone numbers and 5,000 land lines, Cameron said.

Murdoch flew Sunday to London, hours after the final edition of News of the World hit the stands. The publication was the first British national paper Murdoch bought, in 1969, as he began to propel himself from Australian newspaper proprietor to international media magnate.

News International owns the Sun, The Times and The Sunday Times in Britain.

Murdoch's News Corp. also encompasses Fox News, The Wall Street Journal, the New York Post and Harper Collins publishers.

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Sources: ABC News, CNN, Fox News, MSNBC, Think Progress, Google Maps

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