Wednesday 14 March 2012

James Murdoch pleads innocence ahead of committee report

James Murdoch has written to an influential parliamentary committee, investigating a phone hacking scandal at his company, to apologise and restate his innocence ahead of a potentially damaging report that could determine his future in Britain. The 39-year-old son of Rupert wrote to the committee to accept responsibility for failing to uncover the criminal behaviour, which has damaged the reputation of the News Corp media empire, British politicians and police. At stake is his role as chairman of British pay-TV group BSkyB and potentially his future at News Corp, where he had for years been marked out as the heir apparent to his father Rupert as chief executive.   "I did not know about, nor did I try to hide, wrongdoing," he said in the letter published by the committee on Wednesday. "Whilst I accept my share of responsibility for not uncovering wrongdoing sooner, I did not mislead parliament and the evidence does not support any other conclusion." Analysts and some shareholders believe Murdoch would struggle to remain at BSkyB if he is singled out for particular criticism as it could impact his ability to negotiate with the government and regulators on behalf of one of Britain's most powerful media firms. The all-party committee summoned James and his father Rupert to a hearing at the height of the scandal last July, for a three-hour often testy grilling that was watched live by millions on television in both Britain and the United States. Just four months later, the younger Murdoch had to return to answer further detailed questions over what he knew and when after two former colleagues publicly contradicted his evidence. News Corp's British newspaper arm News International had long argued that the hacking of voicemails to generate stories was the work of a single rogue reporter and private investigator who had already gone to jail for the crime. But as more people came forward to accuse the company of hacking their phones, that defence crumbled and attention turned to those at the top of the company and it was asked why they had not pushed further to discover the truth. "Clearly, with the benefit of hindsight, I acknowledge that wrongdoing should have been uncovered earlier," Murdoch said in his letter. The parliamentary committee had originally planned to publish its report before Christmas but due to the sensitivity of the material it is having to write the document by committee and is now aiming for the Easter holiday in April.