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News Corp’s U.K. political meetings to be published

By Reuters
Monday, July 25, 2011 13:10 EDT
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LONDON (Reuters) – Ministers in Britain’s coalition government, criticized for being too close to Rupert Murdoch’s scandal-hit News Corp, face more scrutiny this week when details of their meetings with the company’s executives are published.

News Corp executive James Murdoch is also under pressure over his handling of a phone-hacking scandal that has hit the Murdoch family’s media empire and could jeopardize his own position at the company.

British police are considering a request from opposition Labor politician Tom Watson to investigate claims that the 38-year-old son of News Corp head Rupert Murdoch gave “mistaken” testimony to a parliamentary hearing last week.

Another Labor lawmaker, Chris Bryant, has written to News Corp’s independent directors calling on them to suspend both James and his 80-year-old father for failing to exercise proper corporate control.

The scandal, centered on the now defunct News of the World newspaper, has led to the resignation of senior executives at News Corp and also cost two of London’s top policemen their jobs after they were accused of getting too close to the company.

Prime Minister David Cameron has also faced the worst crisis of his 15 months in charge, his judgment questioned after he hired former News of the World editor Andy Coulson as his communications chief.

Finance minister George Osborne echoed Monday Cameron’s regret over the appointment of Coulson, who quit his government post in January and was arrested earlier this month.

“Knowing what we know now, we regret the decision (to hire Coulson) and I suspect Andy Coulson wouldn’t have taken the job knowing what he knows now as well,” Osborne told reporters after meeting his Indian counterpart Pranab Mukherjee.

The government will publish details of ministerial meetings with News Corp executives, seeking to dispel claims that the company was wielding undue influence when the government was deciding on its $12 billion bid for full control of pay TV company BSkyB.

“When it comes to my meetings with the proprietors and editors of all newspapers, we are very shortly going to publish the details of my meetings and the meetings of other members of the government,” Osborne added. Cameron has already given details of his own such meetings.

FOCUS TURNS TO BSKYB

News Corp dropped its BSkyB bid and closed down the 168-year-old News of the World to try to defuse the scandal after allegations the newspaper had listened in to voicemails of crime victims included a murdered schoolgirl.

The scandal has shaken the company that Rupert Murdoch turned into a global media after starting out with an Australian newspaper.

James Murdoch is expected to retain the support of investors and independent directors of BSkyB — which he chairs and in which News Corp holds a 39 percent stake — when the company announces its financial results Friday.

James and his father appeared before parliament’s media committee last Tuesday to answer questions on phone-hacking.

News Corp’s British arm News International had long maintained that hacking at the News of the World was the work of a lone “rogue reporter.”

However, two former senior figures at its British newspaper arm disputed Friday James Murdoch’s claim at the committee hearing that he had been unaware in 2008 of an e-mail that suggested such wrongdoing was more widespread.

The email related to a 700,000 pound ($1.1 million) out-of-court settlement paid to the head of English soccer’s players union and signed off by James Murdoch in 2008, shortly after he took charge of News Corp’s European operations.

In a letter to the media committee’s chairman, James Murdoch said he had answered questions in parliament truthfully.

But legislators may now contact the men disputing his account, ex-News of the World editor Colin Myler and the newspaper group’s top legal officer Tom Crone, to hear their version of events.

“James Murdoch is in a precarious position,” said media analyst Steve Hewlett. “If it emerges that he knew the details of what he was signing, then he’s in trouble.”

“But if he knew absolutely nothing about why he was signing away so much money, then another question arises, as to whether he is competent to run the business, and whether he is a worthy successor to his father.”

(Additional reporting by Tim Castle, writing by Keith Weir; Editing by David Stamp)

Reuters
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