Murdoch under fire as hacking scandal unfolds

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A ruthless businessman with a passion for news, media baron Rupert Murdoch is set to face tough questions from British lawmakers Tuesday over the phone hacking scandal which has already cost him dearly.

As his News Corporation global empire lurches from one shock to the next, the Australian-born magnate has closed the News of the World, the tabloid at the centre of the scandal, which was Britain's biggest-selling weekly newspaper.

He has also seen his dreams of acquiring Britain's pay-TV satellite broadcaster BSkyB crumble and two of his closest lieutentants resign.

In the United States, questions are being asked as to whether the News of the World attempted to access the phones of September 11 victims and their families, as the company's stock takes a battering in Australia.

He is scheduled to face a grilling from a scrutiny panel of lawmakers from the British parliament's lower House of Commons as to why the paper hacked into the voicemails of around 4,000 people -- from celebrities to murder victims.

His son James and trusted former editor Rebekah Brooks, respectively the chairman and former chief executive of News International, Murdoch's British newspaper publishing arm, are also scheduled to appear.

With 10 people including Brooks now arrested over the scandal Murdoch with his plaintive apology for "the serious wrongdoing that occurred" has become the focus of the headlines, having flown into London to deal with the scandal in person.

Photos showed a grim-faced Murdoch after he met with the parents of murdered girl Milly Dowler, whose voicemail account was hacked and some messages deleted by the paper -- which at the time gave her family false hope she was alive.

"As founder of the company I was appalled to find out what had happened and I apologised, and I have nothing further to say," Murdoch told a scrum of reporters after facing chants of "Shame on you" from protesters.

Murdoch has faced turmoil before, the fake Adolf Hitler diaries and the battle with the press unions in Wapping among them, and has told the Wall Street Journal newspaper the damage from the crisis was "nothing that will not be recovered".

The renowned dealmaker has, from a single Adelaide afternoon paper, built a media empire with interests stretching from Australia to Europe, the United States, Asia and Latin America.

Born into a patrician family headed by his newspaper proprietor father, Sir Keith Murdoch, he is reviled by critics who deride his politically conservative dominance of the global news market and blame him for the excesses of tabloid media.

But he is revered by many of his staff and respected by opponents. Acquisition and expansion, and a formidable capacity to manage debt, as well as a willingness to win battles, have characterised his career.

In the 1980s, he fought a bitter industrial dispute over his decision to move his British papers from their traditional home in London's Fleet Street to new headquarters in Wapping where electronic production allowed him to slash staff.

Murdoch has always moved around the world to be near his business interests. From Britain, he relocated to the United States where more bold acquisitions followed and where he became a naturalised US citizen in 1985.

By 2010, his News Corp. boasted assets of US$57 billion and annual revenues of about US$33 billion across its television, book publishing, Internet and newspaper businesses, including conservative US media outlets such as Fox television and the Wall Street Journal.

Three-times married, Murdoch has never diversified out of the media business and is seen as a newsman at heart, favouring big-selling tabloids over broadsheets.

The decision by a man said to have "newsprint in his veins" to close the 168-year-old Sunday title News of the World was therefore completely unexpected.

Murdoch's purchase of the paper in 1969 gave him a high-profile foothold in the British market. He went on to buy The Sun, which he turned into a popular tabloid, resulting in a massive rise in circulation.

The consequent boost in profits helped finance his 1981 purchase of The Times and The Sunday Times, both prestigious broadsheets, in an acquisition that met with intense opposition from parts of Britain's establishment.

The takeover's eventual approval, however, turned him into Britain's most powerful press proprietor.

Murdoch is undoubtedly the biggest media name in his home country too. He launched broadsheet The Australian in 1964, and dominates newspapers, Internet and cable television.

© 2011 AFP

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