Murdoch apology in papers as aides quit

2011-07-16 11:00

Rupert Murdoch published signed apologies in British newspapers today for the phone hacking scandal as two of his top executives quit in an unprecedented spate of bloodletting at his media empire.

Murdoch on Friday waved goodbye to both Les Hinton, chief executive of Dow Jones in the United States who had worked for him for 52 years, and to Rebekah Brooks, the embattled chief executive of his British newspaper arm News International.

The crisis also returned to haunt British Prime Minister David Cameron as it emerged he had 26 meetings in 15 months with Murdoch chiefs, underscoring the influence the Australian-born magnate once wielded over British politics.

But in a chastening reversal of his previously defiant stance, Murdoch ran full-page adverts in seven national British dailies today for the hacking scandal at the News of the World tabloid, which he closed last week.

“We are sorry,” the headline of the advert read.

It said: “We are sorry for the serious wrongdoing that occurred. We are deeply sorry for the hurt suffered by the individuals affected. We regret not acting faster to sort things out.”

The ads were signed “Sincerely, Rupert Murdoch.”

In a further show of contrition, Murdoch yesterday met the parents of murdered teenager Milly Dowler, whose phone was allegedly hacked by the News of the World in 2002, when Brooks was editor of the paper.

The British government has announced a full public inquiry into the scandal which will also probe claims that police were paid off by the paper and examine the links between media barons and politicians.

Cameron faced renewed pressure after it emerged yesterday that he invited Andy Coulson, his former media chief and News of the World editor from 2003-2007, to his country retreat in March – two months after Coulson quit Downing Street.

British Foreign Foreign Secretary William Hague came to Cameron’s defence, insisting it was a “normal, human thing” to do. The opposition Labour party has said it shows “extraordinary lack of judgment” by the premier.

Coulson was arrested last week on suspicion of phone hacking and making payments to police, one of nine people held over the scandal since police reopened their investigations in January. He denies the charges.

Downing Street has also disclosed that Brooks received hospitality at Chequers twice last year, once in June and again in August, while Murdoch’s son James, the chairperson of News International, was there in November.

The scandal continued to spiral with the news that British actor Jude Law is suing The Sun over phone hacking in 2005 and 2006, when Brooks was editor, in the first such claim against the Murdoch-owned daily.

News International dismissed the claims as a “deeply cynical and deliberately mischievous attempt to draw The Sun into the phone-hacking issue.”

The departures of Brooks and Hinton capped a disastrous week for Murdoch in which he was forced to shut the News of the World, the first British paper he bought, and scrap a buy-out of British pay-TV giant BSkyB.

Brooks denies any wrongdoing, but as editor of the tabloid when Dowler’s phone was allegedly hacked, she became a lightning rod for public and political anger.

The 43-year-old – who started out as a secretary at the tabloid and is viewed almost like a daughter by Murdoch – told News International staff she felt a “deep sense of responsibility for the people we have hurt”.

Brooks will be replaced by New Zealander Tom Mockridge, the chief executive of Murdoch-owned satellite broadcaster Sky Italia.

Hours later, Hinton announced his resignation, saying that although he knew nothing of the phone hacking when he was chairperson of News International from 1995 to 2007, he must take responsibility for the “unimaginable” pain it caused.

“That I was ignorant of what apparently happened is irrelevant and in the circumstances I feel it is proper for me to resign from News Corp and apologise to those hurt by the actions of News of the World,” he said.

The departures now leave James Murdoch exposed.

Both father and son have been summoned, alongside Brooks, to testify before British lawmakers on Tuesday.

In the United States, the FBI has began probing allegations that Murdoch’s US employees may have hacked the phones of victims of the September 11 attacks, dealing a potentially huge blow to his US-based News Corp.

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