News Corp. Chairman Rupert Murdoch had “selective amnesia” about events including meetings with former U.K. Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher about 30 years ago, a lawyer for a media-ethics inquiry in Britain said.
Murdoch, during testimony last month, forgot seemingly important details of a lunch with Thatcher while he was buying the Times newspaper in 1981, Robert Jay, a lawyer for the inquiry, said at the judicial inquiry today in London. The probe was triggered by widespread phone hacking at News Corp.’s News of the World tabloid.
“Could an intimate lunch at Chequers really have been forgotten?” Jay asked during the introduction to the inquiry’s review of the press and politicians. “This issue is capable of bearing on Mr. Murdoch’s integrity.”
Murdoch and his son James spent three days in front of the inquiry blaming their ignorance of the illegal events on police, lawyers and subordinates. The company’s critics and victims have argued News Corp.’s often cozy links to government prevented the extent of the scandal from being uncovered sooner.
Evidence released by the ethics inquiry showed the Murdochs had dozens of meetings with the most powerful lawmakers in the U.K. As a result, Culture Secretary Jeremy Hunt is facing calls from the opposition Labour party to resign after e-mails showed one of his aides offered inside information on Hunt’s views to a News Corp. lobbyist when the company was offering 7.8 billion pounds ($12.6 billion) for the 61 percent of British Sky Broadcasting Group Plc (BSY) it didn’t already own.
Judge Brian Leveson, who is overseeing the inquiry, should determine whether the Hunt dispute over the “BSkyB bid is really an example in microcosm of an over-cozy relationship of favors being traded in,” Jay said today.
Prime Minister David Cameron’s former press chief, Andy Coulson, discussed his contacts after he gave up the editorship of the News of the World in the wake of a reporter and private investigator going to jail for phone hacking in 2007. Coulson said he assured Cameron that he didn’t know about the activities of reporter Clive Goodman and private investigator Glenn Mulcaire.
Coulson said he told Cameron “that I knew nothing about Clive Goodman and Glenn Mulcaire in terms of what they did.”
Coulson also said he never promised Cameron favorable coverage from News Corp. newspapers even though he described himself as close friends with Rebekah Brooks, who was then editor of The Sun, News Corp.’s U.K. daily tabloid. Coulson called it the most important newspaper in the country.
“My News International background should not be seen as a guarantee of the support of either of those papers,” Coulson said today. Still, he said, “My experience might help in terms of connecting with News of the World readers and Sun readers.”
Both Coulson and Brooks have been arrested in current police probes into phone hacking and bribes to public officials at News Corp. (NWSA:US) newspapers.
Leveson said in opening remarks today that he won’t decide whether Murdoch is fit to run a company or whether Hunt broke the U.K.’s ministerial code in his dealings with News Corp. A separate parliamentary committee probing the scandal earlier this month said Murdoch wasn’t fit to run a major international company.
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