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Murdoch: Phone hacking 'next to nothing'

July 4, 2013 at 2:00 AM   |   Comments

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LONDON, July 4 (UPI) -- Rupert Murdoch dismissed probes into his British newspapers' alleged phone hacking and other press abuses as "the biggest inquiry ever, over next to nothing."

He also called London police "incompetent," indicated he'd known for decades his journalists were paying off police for information and said he or his successors would take care of journalists who went to prison.

His brash comments at a March meeting with nearly two dozen executives and journalists at his London tabloid The Sun -- secretly recorded by at least one staff member -- sharply differed from his apologetic April 2012 public testimony during a judicial public inquiry into the culture, practices and ethics of the British press.

In that inquiry, Murdoch told Judge Brian Leveson "paying police officers for information is wrong."

But when a Sun journalist arrested for alleged illegal newsgathering practices told Murdoch at the March meeting those practices appeared firmly established at The Sun long before the journalist arrived, Murdoch said: "We're talking about payments for news tips from cops -- that's been going on a hundred years. Absolutely you didn't instigate it."

Murdoch called the payments a quid pro quo that "was the culture of Fleet Street."

Fleet Street is the name of a London street that has come to symbolize the British national press because most British national newspapers were based there until the 1980s.

The recording of Murdoch's remarks was obtained by British investigative news website Exaro, which is based on Fleet Street, and broadcast Wednesday night by Britain's Channel 4 News.

The broadcast can be seen at tinyurl.com/UPI-Murdoch-Recording.

In the recording of the 45-minute meeting, Murdoch described London's Metropolitan Police Service, known as Scotland Yard, as prolonging the News International phone-hacking scandal investigation.

"It's just getting dragged out and dragged out through incompetence," he said.

"It's a disgrace. Here we are, two years later, and the cops are totally incompetent," he said.

When a journalist suggested some of the evidence appeared contrived, Murdoch said: "I understand exactly where you're coming from. But why are the police behaving this way? It's the biggest inquiry ever, over next to nothing."

The recording also shows Murdoch attempting to calm anger and concern among his employees charged with crimes.

"I will do everything in my power to give you total support, even if you're convicted and get six months or whatever," he said.

"You're all innocent until proven guilty," he said. "What you're asking is: What happens if some of you are proven guilty? What afterwards?

"I'm not allowed to promise you -- I will promise you continued health support -- but your jobs: I've got to be careful what comes out -- but frankly, I won't say it, but just trust me, OK?"

Asked what would happen if the 82-year-old media baron was not around to support them, Murdoch acknowledged to laughter he "might not be here tomorrow" and said the decision would lie with his oldest son, Lachlan Murdoch, a News Corp. board member, or with News Corp. Chief Executive Officer Robert Thomson, a former editor of The Wall Street Journal and The Times of London, both News Corp. properties.

"And you don't have any worries about either of them," Murdoch said.

In a statement, News Corp. said, "No other company has done as much to identify what went wrong, compensate the victims and ensure the same mistakes do not happen again.

"The unprecedented cooperation granted by News Corp. was agreed unanimously by senior management and the board, and the MSC [News Corp. Management and Standards Committee] continues to cooperate under the supervision of the courts.

"Rupert Murdoch has shown understandable empathy with the staff and families affected and will assume they are innocent until and unless proven guilty," the statement said.

News Corp. split into two companies Friday. One company operates as a newspaper and book publisher and has retained the News Corp. name. The other is an entertainment company, called Twenty-First Century Fox Inc.

© 2013 United Press International, Inc. All Rights Reserved. Any reproduction, republication, redistribution and/or modification of any UPI content is expressly prohibited without UPI's prior written consent.
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