Murdochs ordered to testify to British MPs, Brooks agrees

14th July 2011, Comments 0 comments

British lawmakers formally summoned Rupert Murdoch and his son James Thursday to testify over the phone hacking scandal as the arrest of another ex-employee piled more pressure on the media mogul.

Rebekah Brooks, the chief executive of Murdoch's British newspaper division, accepted an invitation to appear for questioning by parliament's media committee next Tuesday, but the Murdochs had refused to attend, it said in a statement.

Police meanwhile arrested Neil Wallis, former executive editor of the News of the World, as the furore which has led to the closure of the tabloid and forced Murdoch to drop a takeover bid for satellite broadcaster BSkyB raged on.

The scandal also threatened to spread to Australia and the United States where lawmakers called for an inquiry into whether Murdoch's journalists there were involved in illegal practices like some of their British counterparts.

British Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg said they should appear before the committee "if they have any shred of sense of responsibility, of accountability for their position of power".

The committee asked the Murdochs, both US citizens, and Brooks, a British national, to attend on Tuesday but bared its teeth when Rupert Murdoch, 80, said he was busy and James said he could only come on August 10.

It said it had "made clear its view that all three should appear to account for the behaviour of News International and for previous statements made to the Committee in Parliament, now acknowledged to be false."

"Accordingly, the Committee has this morning decided to summon Rupert Murdoch and James Murdoch to appear" next Tuesday.

In a letter to the committee, Murdoch said he was "fully prepared" to give evidence to a judge-led inquiry into the affair announced by Prime Minister David Cameron.

For Brooks, herself a former News of the World editor, it promises to be a tough session.

At her last committee appearance in 2003 she admitted: "We have paid the police for information in the past", though she later said she was referring to the industry in general.

The extent of those payments is part of a Scotland Yard inquiry which is also dealing with the voicemail hacking.

The Australian-born Murdoch has been in London in crisis mode since Sunday, the day the 168-year-old News of the World published its last ever edition.

The row had rumbled on for months but exploded last week after it emerged that it had targeted the messages of Milly Dowler, a murdered 13-year-old girl, and of the families of the veterans of the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq.

On Wednesday, his News Corp. announced it was dropping its bid for full control of BSkyB, whose portfolio includes live English Premier League football and blockbuster films and has 10 million household subscribers.

Murdoch overruled his son and likely heir James in the decision to back out of the BSkyB deal, after James had pressed for seeking regulatory approval of the deal, the New York Times reported Thursday.

In London, police arrested Neil Wallis, 60, the former executive editor and deputy editor of the News of the World, who left the paper in 2009. Wallis is the ninth person to be arrested since the inquiry was reopened in January.

Wallis was deputy editor at the 168-year-old title from 2003 to 2007 under editor Andy Coulson. Coulson quit the paper in 2007 after its royal reporter and a private investigator were jailed for hacking mobile phone voicemails.

Scotland Yard would not confirm his identity but said a 60-year-old man was arrested by officers at a residential address in London early on Thursday "on suspicion of conspiring to intercept communications".

Coulson, who went on to become Prime Minister David Cameron's media chief before quitting that job in January, was arrested on Friday in connection with the scandal and later bailed.

In Australia, the birthplace of Murdoch's global empire, Prime Minister Julia Gillard said on Thursday she would be open to an inquiry into media regulation and ownership after the "disgusting" scandal engulfing News Corp.

In Washington, Democratic Senators Jay Rockefeller and Barbara Boxer urged US Attorney General Eric Holder and the Wall Street watchdog Securities and Exchange Commission to launch investigations into the scandal.

News Corp's shares have plummeted in the past week, and the Murdoch-owned Wall Street Journal reported that the media tycoon was considering selling off his remaining British newspapers, The Times, The Sunday Times and The Sun.

© 2011 AFP

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