LONDON (Reuters) - James Murdoch, heir apparent to his father’s News Corp before a phone-hacking scandal engulfed the firm, will return for a second hearing before the UK parliament to explain apparent discrepancies in his evidence.
Murdoch and his 80-year-old father Rupert appeared before the powerful parliamentary committee in July to explain how people working for the News of the World had hacked the phones of thousands to generate stories.
Since then, however, executives working below James Murdoch have contradicted his testimony over what he knew and when, further damaging his reputation and throwing into doubt whether he will one day succeed his father at the top of the $45 billion company.
James, youngest son of Rupert Murdoch, will appear before the culture and media committee to answer further questions on November 10. A spokeswoman for News Corp said he was happy to do so.
The statement came as Murdoch’s predecessor at the British newspaper arm, Les Hinton, appeared before the same committee for a third time, saying he had not been involved in a cover-up and that he had not realized the scale of the problem.
“I don’t think I was complicit,” he said. “Looking back on it now, I will look forward to understanding exactly what did unfold and what we might have done that we did not.”
The company, which is paying out large sums in a bid to put the scandal behind it, with payments to phone-hacking victims and to charity, managed to defeat a protest vote at the annual general meeting.
Hinton, who worked for Murdoch for over 50 years, spoke via video link from New York and appeared at times uncomfortable as he struggled to answer several of the questions put to him.
He was always going to face difficult questions after previously telling the same committee in 2007 and 2009 that the company had completed a thorough review and found that the phone hacking had been limited to just one rogue reporter, who had already gone to jail.
It has since emerged, however, that the reporter, Clive Goodman, wrote to Hinton in 2007 to say that his subsequent dismissal from the tabloid was unfair because phone-hacking had been rife and discussed widely in the newsroom.
“I don’t think that I would regard Mr Goodman’s letter as evidence of anything,” he said. “We reacted, I think, very responsibly to what Mr Goodman claimed, and at the end of it we could discover no basis for what he was claiming.”
Goodman, who went to jail in 2007 for hacking the phones of staff to the royal family, was later paid nearly 250,000 pounds as a pay-off by the News of the World.
Executives such as the former head of human resources and the legal chief had told the parliamentary committee that they would have to “ask Mr Hinton” why the company had paid such a large sum to someone who was dismissed for breaking the law, when he was not entitled to anything.
Other News of the World executives had also testified that the company agreed in 2008 to a very large pay-off to an early hacking victim because they did not want their admission of guilt to be made public.
That move, and the apparent inability of many executives to remember who had done what when appearing before the committee, have contributed to an image that News Corp engaged in a huge cover-up once it realized the scale of the problem.
Hinton said he had not personally led or followed an internal investigation conducted by lawyers into the scandal.
He also said he was very busy at the time.
“For somebody who has worked for a news company for 50 years, you don’t have an enquiring mind,” one of the parliamentarians, Damian Collins, said.
Another member of parliament Tom Watson congratulated Hinton on his performance. “You have only said you can’t remember seven times so far. In 2009 you used it 32 times.”
Hinton resigned in July in part to stop the scandal from spreading to the United States, where he had moved to run Dow Jones, the owner of Murdoch’s cherished Wall Street Journal.
He was the highest ranking executive to resign over the crisis, but he told the committee that he did not think that James Murdoch should resign over his conduct.
Reporting by Kate Holton; additional reporting by Sarah Young; Editing by Will Waterman