LONDON (Reuters) - Rupert Murdoch’s tetchy and uncompromising appearance at a British inquiry into phone hacking could come back to haunt him this week when politicians give their verdict on the scandal at his defunct News of the World newspaper.
Three days of grilling at the Leveson judicial press inquiry last week extracted few new facts from Rupert and his son James as the 81-year-old casually threw out insults at politicians and described himself as a victim of a corporate cover-up.
That appearance will only increase pressure on a powerful parliamentary committee to be harsh in its verdict on the scandal, putting Murdoch’s News Corp further on the defensive.
“The timing of the select committee report, following the week we’ve just had at Leveson, is crucial,” a person familiar with the thinking and mechanics of the committee, told Reuters.
“Anyone putting their name to an amendment that supports Rupert and James, or dilutes the criticism of Rupert and James, would look very different now than they would have done a week ago.”
Another person familiar with the situation said the report had become much more critical in recent months.
The committee will meet on Monday to vote and agree the final wording for the report, which had originally been expected late last year. It will be published on Tuesday.
Murdoch shut the 168-year-old News of the World in July after journalists and investigators admitted hacking the phones of ordinary people, crime victims and politicians to gather exclusive and salacious news.
The evidence from the Leveson inquiry could particularly increase the pressure on members of the committee from Prime Minister David Cameron’s Conservative party, traditionally seen as close to the world’s most powerful media tycoon.
The release of emails between James Murdoch and his top London lobbyist suggesting possible influence over the government led to the resignation of a senior ministerial aide and demands for the minister himself to quit.
The committee is expected to criticize James Murdoch for his handling of News Corp’s British newspaper arm and is considering whether to implicate Rupert Murdoch for his influence over the wider company culture.
A tough report could make it harder for 39-year-old James Murdoch in his role as News Corp’s deputy chief operating officer after the damage the company has already taken to its value and reputation.
Committee members believe Murdoch staff have shown little respect for the parliamentary system and accused them at one point of suffering from “collective amnesia”.
Since the committee has to be careful of criticizing any of the people arrested over phone- and computer-hacking and bribery to avoid prejudicing court cases, the criticism of the Murdochs may be even more pointed. They have not been arrested.
Rupert Murdoch told the Leveson inquiry on Thursday that staff within the News of the World had hidden the hacking scandal from himself, James and ex-News of the World editor Rebekah Brooks, a protegee of his.
He put the blame on the journalists and the paper’s former top lawyer and said he wished he had shut the paper sooner. He brushed off any suggestion that he could be held responsible for a culture that allowed criminality to flourish.
“I think Rupert showed his true lights... belligerent, testy, laying the blame everywhere but himself and passing the buck,” Roy Greenslade, who worked under Murdoch at the Sun and Sunday Times, told Reuters.
Editing by Matthew Tostevin