Murdoch's influence in Britain under fresh scrutiny
The British establishment's ties to Rupert Murdoch came under renewed scrutiny Sunday as he made a second public apology for phone hacking and warned those responsible had "no place to hide".
The media baron's latest attempt to stem the crisis caused by the scandal-hit News of the World appeared to fall on deaf ears, however, as opposition Labour leader Ed Miliband called for his British empire to be dismantled.
Miliband told The Observer that politicians should look at the situation, saying: "I think it's unhealthy because that amount of power in one person's hands has clearly led to abuses of power within his organisation."
In the past week, Murdoch has closed the News of the World, abandoned his offer for control of pay-TV giant BSkyB and let go two of his top executives, Rebekah Brooks and Les Hinton, in a bid to control the crisis.
But still the scandal grows and Murdoch has this weekend taken out full-page adverts in most of Britain's national newspapers apologising for the row.
After an ad saying "We are sorry" and signed by Murdoch appeared on Saturday, another version entitled "Putting right what's gone wrong" appeared in Sunday's newspapers on behalf of his British newspaper division, News International.
It promised to fully cooperate with police investigating the hacking, provide compensation for those targeted and clean up its act in future, adding: "There are no excuses and there should be no place to hide."
Murdoch will give evidence to British lawmakers on Tuesday alongside his son and heir apparent, James Murdoch, and Rebekah Brooks, a former News of the World editor who quit as chief executive of News International on Friday.
They are expected to face a tough grilling not just about phone hacking, but also whether they sanctioned a cover-up, and whether journalists at their newspapers had also paid police officers for information.
Although the scandal has threatened to spread to the United States, where the FBI is investigating claims that Americans had their phones hacked, it came back to haunt the British establishment once again this weekend.
Prime Minister David Cameron was forced on the defensive after it emerged that he personally had 26 meetings in 15 months with key figures in Murdoch's News Corp. and its British newspaper division, News International.
Cameron hosted Brooks and James Murdoch at his country retreat, Chequers.
Foreign Secretary William Hague defended him Saturday, saying he was "not embarrassed by it in any way", although he pointed to the judge-led inquiry Cameron has set up to examine the ties between politicians and senior media figures.
Hague also defended Cameron's decision to invite Andy Coulson, his former media chief and another one-time editor of the News of the World tabloid, to Chequers in March, two months after Coulson quit Downing Street.
Coulson was arrested last week in connection with the scandal over alleged hacking and payments to police, one of nine people held since police reopened their investigations in January. He denies the charges.
News International's ties with the police have also emerged in more detail, as Scotland Yard revealed that Commissioner Paul Stephenson met its executives and editors 18 times socially between 2006 and 2010.
It was Scotland Yard which investigated the first allegations of phone hacking in 2005, and which reopened the probe amid criticism that it had failed to unearth information on thousands of victims.
The force is already facing questions about why it hired a former News of the World deputy editor, Neil Wallis, as an advisor just two months after he quit the tabloid. Wallis was arrested last week over the phone hacking scandal.
Stephenson was linked to Wallis in media reports on Sunday, which said the police chief accepted a five-week stay earlier this year at a luxury health spa where Wallis worked as a PR consultant.
But a police spokesman strongly denied any wrongdoing, saying Stephenson's meals and accommodation were provided by the spa's managing director, a personal friend, while he was recovering from a serious operation.
"The commissioner only learnt who the PR consultant for Champneys was following a media enquiry today," he said.
Stephenson will also be grilled by lawmakers Tuesday, in a separate session to Brooks and the Murdochs.
© 2011 AFP