James Murdoch underfire at U.K. Parliament

News Intl. accused of rampant illegality

Embattled News Corp. deputy chief operating officer James Murdoch steadfastly insisted that he was unaware of the extent of the phone hacking at Blighty Sunday tabloid the News of the World when he appeared before a Parliamentary Select Committee for a second time on Thursday.

Sitting this time without his father, Rupert, by his side, Murdoch Jr. repeatedly denied he had misled Parliament and emphasized that he had no knowledge of how widespread the illegal activities at the now-defunct paper were as he was grilled by a group of Members of Parliament in London.

He stood by his July testimony to the committee, saying that wider evidence of phone hacking was not given to him by former NoW editor Colin Myler or by Tom Crone, former legal affairs manager at News Intl., the U.K. newspaper arm of News. Corp. — apportioning blame to others.

He said former News Intl. boss Les Hinton appointed Myler after the resignation of incumbent Andy Coulson (who was also later forced to quit as Prime Minister David Cameron’s spin doctor over the scandal). “If he (Myler) had known that there was wider spread criminality I think he should have told me,” Murdoch added.

The session, which lasted more than 2 1/2 hours, began with Murdoch denying knowledge of the so-called “for Neville” email, which revealed exactly how widespread phone hacking was in the org. and claimed to have only read the email “very recently,” despite the fact that it was published in a 2010 committee report.

Asked whether he felt “humbled” by the events that have unfolded, a word his father used in July in front of the committee, Murdoch responded: “I have had some time to reflect on these events. It’s appropriate to reflect and I think the whole company is humbled by this.

“What I’m trying to do is learn from the events over the last couple of years and try to understand why the company couldn’t come to grips with the issues in as fast a way as I would have liked.

“We are all humbled by it…it is something that we are very sorry about.”

When he was asked about the legal advice given by Michael Silverleaf QC to News Intl. emphasizing that there was a culture of illegal activities at the company in 2008, Murdoch replied, “It is clear to me that the information I received was incomplete and it’s also clear that in 2009 upon allegations that the full extent of the knowledge was not made clear to me and that is something that I am very sorry for.”

Questioning took a dramatic turn when MP Tom Watson accused Murdoch of subscribing to a Mafia-style “code of silence” over the illegal activities.

Asked whether the term “omerta” — a group of people bound together by secrecy — was an accurate description of News Intl., Murdoch responded: “Absolutely not, I think it’s offensive and it’s not true.”

“I think you must be the first mafia boss in history who didn’t know he was running a criminal enterprise,” said Watson to Murdoch, before Murdoch called his line of questioning “inappropriate.”

Murdoch has always insisted that he was ignorant of the fact that phone hacking was widespread when he authorized a payment of £700,000 ($1.1 million) to soccer official Gordon Taylor in 2008 when his phone was hacked.

Additionally, Murdoch did not rule out axing The Sun, a six-day-a-week tabloid that is one of three remaining U.K. newspapers at News Intl., if further evidence of phone hacking surfaced.

However, that is thought to be unlikely since The Sun is prepping a Sunday paper to replace NoW.

The scandal, prompted after it was revealed the paper had hacked into the cell phone of murdered schoolgirl Milly Dowling, has had a seismic effect on Rupert Murdoch’s media empire.

A number of execs have resigned in the wake of the public outcry including Rebekah Brooks, former News Intl. topper and one-time NoW and Sun editor, and Hinton, former chief exec of Dow Jones and Rupert Murdoch’s right-hand man for some 50 years.

John Hartigan, longtime chairman and CEO of News Ltd., News Corp.’s Australian arm, stepped down Wednesday.

James Murdoch, who also is chairman of U.K. paybox BSkyB, is facing challenges to his position at the company.

In October, he survived an attempt by News Corp. stockholders to remove him as director.