British government defends Murdoch links

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Britain's government defended its links with Rupert Murdoch on Saturday as the embattled media mogul published apologies in national newspapers over the phone hacking scandal saying: "We Are Sorry."

A day after Murdoch suffered the loss of two of his closest aides, the crisis returned to haunt British Prime Minister David Cameron as it emerged he had 26 meetings in 15 months with key figures from the Australian-born magnate's empire.

British Foreign Secretary William Hague came to Cameron's defence, saying he was "not embarrassed" by the extent of the contacts with those close to Murdoch, 80, who has wielded his influence over British politics for decades.

Those invited to Cameron's country retreat, Chequers, included Rebekah Brooks, who quit as chief executive of News International, Murdoch's British newspaper wing, on Friday and was a previous editor of the News of the World, now closed.

Another was Murdoch's son James, the chairman of News International.

"Personally, I'm not embarrassed by it in any way. But there is something wrong here in this country and it must be put right. It has been acknowledged by the PM and I think that's the right attitude to take," Hague told the BBC.

Cameron also invited 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.

Hague said: "In inviting Andy Coulson back the prime minister has invited someone back to thank him for his work, he's worked for him for several years, that is a normal, human thing to do, I think it shows a positive side to his character."

On Saturday, Murdoch abandoned his previously defiant stance and ran full-page adverts in seven national British dailies, apologising for the hacking scandal at the News of the World, which he closed down last week.

"We are sorry," the headline of the ads read. They were signed "Sincerely, Rupert Murdoch."

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."

In a further show of contrition, Murdoch on Friday 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.

Murdoch's determination to keep his empire afloat was shown, however, when he accepted the resignation of Brooks on Friday and then, hours later that of Les Hinton, head of Dow Jones, the publisher of The Wall Street Journal.

Hinton had worked with Murdoch for 50 years.

British-born Hinton said that although he knew nothing of the phone hacking when he was chairman of News International from 1995 to 2007, he must take responsibility for the "unimaginable" pain it caused.

Brooks denies any wrongdoing, but as editor of News of the World when Dowler's phone was allegedly hacked, she became a lightning rod for outrage.

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".

The departures of Brooks and Hinton capped a disastrous week for Murdoch in which he was also forced to scrap a buy-out of British pay-TV giant BSkyB.

They have also now exposed Murdoch's heir-apparent James, 38, who is the chairman of News International and also runs the Asian and European operations of parent company News Corporation.

The British government has announced a full public inquiry into the scandal.

Rupert Murdoch, James Murdoch and Brooks have all been summoned to testify before British lawmakers on Tuesday.

But 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".

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.

© 2011 AFP

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