LONDON (Reuters) - James Murdoch faces a second grilling by UK parliamentarians on Thursday over his role in a phone-hacking scandal at the News of the World tabloid that could make or break his credibility as the next head of his father Rupert’s media empire.
A committee of MPs will have a second chance to cross-examine the 38-year-old News Corp executive about exactly when he found out about the illegal practice, and whether he took proper steps to investigate and stop it.
James Murdoch’s previous testimony, that he was unaware of the extent of the hacking when he approved a huge pay-off to a soccer boss later revealed to be one of many victims, was quickly contradicted by two ex-senior executives.
Tom Crone and Colin Myler, the former legal chief and last editor of the now defunct News of the World, contend that they made Murdoch aware in 2008 that the soccer boss, Gordon Taylor, had in his possession transcripts of hacked phone conversations that appeared to implicate other journalists.
The questioning is likely to focus on the different accounts of this key 2008 meeting, and the so-called “For Neville” email containing the transcripts, which Taylor obtained from police investigating the hacking.
This time, James -- who is still chairman of News Corp’s British newspaper arm, News International -- will face the full glare of the world’s largely hostile media alone, without his father, News Corp Chief Executive Rupert Murdoch, at his side.
At their last appearance in July, Rupert stole the show with an extraordinary statement of humility, an uncharacteristically halting performance, and most bizarrely by becoming the victim of a shaving-foam pie thrower.
James’s performance was considered accomplished if at times arrogant and brittle.
Supporters and critics agree that even in the best-case scenario, there is no good outcome possible for James on Thursday -- only bad or less bad.
Although he was only brought into News International after the date of the last known phone-hacking, he is accused of failing to ask the right questions at best, and possibly of participating in a huge corporate cover-up.
An admission by News International this week that the News of the World ordered the surveillance of lawyers representing hacking victims as recently as this year have added to the impression that the culture may not have changed significantly.
Paul Farrelly, one of the opposition Labour Party MPs on the parliamentary committee, told Reuters that even if James Murdoch persuaded the committee he had not known what was going on, there would still be questions to answer.
“Given that this has led to the closure of the News of the World and has cost News International handsomely, he’ll be asked if he didn’t know the full extent, why didn’t he?” Farrelly said.
Murdoch’s appearance is due to begin at 1100 GMT (6 a.m. EST) and will be streamed live at www.parliamentlive.tv.
Reporting by Georgina Prodhan; Editing by Myra MacDonald