News Corp. deputy huddles with Sky Italia execs

Two former News Intl. executives on Thursday challenged a part of James Murdoch’s testimony before a parliamentary committee that he was not aware several years ago that the phone hacking scandal was more widespread.

Former News of the World editor Colin Myler and former News Intl. legal manager Tom Crone said that they had informed Murdoch three years ago of an e-mail that was evidence that the phone hacking was not limited to just one reporter at the paper.

The pair said that Murdoch, News Corp.’s deputy chief operating officer, had been told of the e-mail when he signed off on a reported seven-figure settlement with soccer union boss Gordon Taylor, who brought suit against News of the World over the hacking.

In a joint statement, Myler and Crone said that Murdoch’s recollection of what he was told was “mistaken.”

On Tuesday, Murdoch told a House of Commons committee that he was not aware of the e-mail, and said in a statement on Thursday, “I stand behind my testimony to the Select Committee.”

On Wednesday, Murdoch jetted from London to Milan to meet managers at News Corp. satcaster Sky Italia, who are temporarily taking over Tom Mockridge’s duties as topper at the paybox.

The surprise visit, kept quiet until after Murdoch’s departure, continues News Corp.’s attempts to manage the crisis.

Mockridge, who is among Rupert Murdoch’s key lieutenants, relocated to London last week to replace Rebekah Brooks as News Intl.’s chief executive and, as he put it, deal with the “many challenges” facing News Corp.’s U.K. newspaper unit. Murdoch met Sky Italia’s COO Laura Ciolli and chief financial officer Domenico Labianca.

Sky Italia, which has nearly 5 million subs, is expected to appoint a replacement for Mockridge soon.

Tipped for the post is Andrea Zappia, managing director of the customer group at BSkyB, News Corp.’s U.K. paybox, and a former VP of sports channels at Sky Italia.

News Corp.’s wholly-owned Sky Italia, which reported a third quarter $17 million operating income in May, is a moneyspinner which the Murdochs clearly prize.

During Tuesday’s hearing, Rupert Murdoch noted that on any given week James Murdoch spent a day at Sky Italia, noting that Sky has “a particularly tricky competitor,” a sly reference to Sky’s ongoing clash with Italo prime minister and media mogul Silvio Berlusconi’s Mediaset.

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