London: “We are sorry,” Rupert Murdoch said in British newspapers on Saturday, as News Corp tried to quell the uproar over a phone-hacking scandal that has shaken the company and claimed its top two newspaper executives.
Les Hinton, one of Murdoch’s top aides and head of Dow Jones, publisher of the Wall Street Journal, resigned on Friday, as did Rebekah Brooks, head of News Corp’s British newspaper arm, News International.
The spotlight now turns to Murdoch’s son and presumed successor, James, who took over the European operations of News Corp as the crisis was beginning. He and Murdoch, along with Brooks, face a grilling in Britain’s parliament on Tuesday.
The apology, which began appearing in national newspapers on Saturday, was headlined, “We are sorry.”
It said the News of the World, the News Corp-owned tabloid newspaper accused of hacking the phones up to 4,000 people, “was in the business of holding others to account. It failed when it came to itself.”
“We are sorry for the serious wrongdoing that occurred. We are deeply sorry for the hurt suffered by the individuals affected,” added the note, signed by Rupert Murdoch.
The attempts at conciliation included Murdoch’s personal apology on Friday to the parents of a murdered schoolgirl in what appeared to be an admission that the News of the World, then edited by Brooks and overseen by Hinton, had in 2002 hacked into the voicemails of their missing daughter.
That allegation reignited a five-year-old scandal that forced Murdoch to close the News of the World, Britain’s best-selling Sunday paper, and drop a $12 billion plan to buy full control of highly profitable pay-TV operator BSkyB.
It has also broken the the grip that Murdoch, 80, held over British politics for three decades as leaders from Margaret Thatcher, through Labour’s Tony Blair to current Conservative Prime Minister David Cameron sought his support.
Skepticism on apology
British parliamentarian John Prescott, asked by the BBC Saturday if Murdoch’s apology, changed anything, replied, “Absolutely not.”
“For him to say I’m sorry -- it was only 24 hours ago in America in the Wall Street Journal that (Murdoch said) they were only minor offences. ... This is a man desperately trying to save his company and ditching everybody else in the process,” Prescott said.
Lawmaker John Whittingdale, the head of the parliamentary committee that will question the Murdochs and Brooks, told Reuters on Friday that while an apology was long overdue, investigations into wrongdoing had a long way to go.
Hinton stepped down as the British phone hacking scandal surrounding News Corp began to spread to the United States. He was the highest-ranking executive yet to resign over the crisis.
“I have watched with sorrow from New York as the News of the World story has unfolded,” Hinton wrote in a memo to staff after resigning as chief executive of Dow Jones and publisher of The Wall Street Journal.
“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 apologize to those hurt by the actions of the News of the World,” he added.
At the Journal, news of Hinton’s departure was greeted by gasps and a stunned silence, despite much speculation in London and New York that he could be toppled by the scandal.
Brooks had resisted pressure to quit, but finally resigned as chief executive of News International after a top News Corp shareholder, Prince Alwaleed bin Talal, said she had to go.
Cameron had also called on Brooks to resign. His closeness to her and also his decision to hire former News of the World editor Andy Coulson, embarrassed Cameron and raised doubts over his judgment.
Brooks, also a former editor of the News of the World and the flagship daily tabloid The Sun, was a favourite of Murdoch, who described her as his first priority just days ago.
Murdoch named as her replacement News Corp veteran Tom Mockridge, who spent the past eight years running Sky Italia.
Falls on sword
Hinton, 67, worked alongside Murdoch for more than five decades, rising through the ranks until he was tapped to run News International in 1995, and later Dow Jones after News Corp bought the publisher of the Wall Street Journal.
On two occasions starting in 2007, Hinton addressed British parliamentary committees about the News of the World phone hacking, testifying both times that a full internal investigation had been carried out.
That testimony resurfaced in press reports over recent days as new questions emerged about the depth of phone hacking at the tabloid -- including allegations that victims of notorious crimes, bombings and war may have been targeted.
Pressure has mounted on Murdoch to sell off his newspapers since the scandal broke, something he has resisted so far. Murdoch did, however, shut down News of the World last Sunday, and his sacrifice of Hinton and Brooks was seen as a reflection of the depth of the crisis shaking News Corp.
“Les fell on his sword for Murdoch,” said Jeff Jarvis, a journalism professor at City University of New York who worked for Hinton when News Corp owned TV Guide.
“Murdoch isn’t loyal to media assets but he’s very loyal to those that are loyal to him,” Jarvis added.
In a memo to Dow Jones’ staff, Murdoch said he accepted Hinton’s resignation with the “heaviest of hearts,” but he also attempted to deflect some of the wider criticism of the company.
“Let me emphasize one point - News Corporation is not Rupert Murdoch. It is the collective creativity and effort of many thousands of people around the world,” he said.
Speaking before Friday’s resignations, Murdoch had defended the way his managers handled the crisis in an interview with the Wall Street Journal.
He spoke of “minor mistakes” and dismissed suggestions, floated by some shareholders, that he should sell off the troubled newspaper businesses on which his empire was founded but which bring in only limited profits.
Reuters is a competitor of Dow Jones Newswires, the financial news agency that News Corp acquired along with the Wall Street Journal in 2007.