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Daily View: What did we learn from MPs' questions on phone hacking?

Clare Spencer | 09:53 UK time, Wednesday, 20 July 2011

James and Rupert Murdoch


The day after News Corp's bosses appeared in front of MPs to answer their questions on phone hacking there is much talk about an attempt to throw a foam pie in the face for Rupert Murdoch and his wife, Wendi's defence. In amongst this pie talk commentators pick out what they learnt from the session.

The New Statesman's Peter McHugh manages to select one piece of information aside from the pie:

"Time crawled by as committee members tried to ask the questions they must have overheard on the tube home but there was neither heat nor light until James was asked if his company had been picking up the legal bills of chief criminal Glen Mulcaire even after his prison sentence. The simple answer seems to be yes although the words uttered bore only a passing relationship to this fact."

Once the Daily Mail's Quentin Lett gets passed the pie incident he picks out his choice of what was new:

"We also learned how amazingly close Mr Murdoch had been to Gordon Brown. 'Our children played together. I felt he had great values,' said Mr Murdoch about Labour's Mr Brown."

But overall commentators seem frustrated that so little was learned, the Independent's editorial calls the answers evasive:

"Tom Watson exposed just how little Rupert Murdoch knew (or would admit to knowing) about what took place at News International in the years after the phone-hacking scandal first broke in 2005. As Mr Watson noted, this might not be enough given that, as News Corp's chairman, Mr Murdoch is responsible for corporate governance."

Fraser Nelson in the Spectator calls it a "strikingly uninformative" session:

"Many will have tuned in wanting to see the devil. Many more will have turned in wanting to see the historic showdown promised. Unless I missed it, there was nothing that will make a YouTube moment. Unless they make a slow-mo version of the Wendi slap."

There are a few theories how so little was learnt after so many questions. In the
Financial Times Philip Delves Broughton says
the scale of the Murdoch empire was used as an explanation to why the Murdochs didn't always have the answers:

"The MPs did their best to challenge him, but they were up against a man who has built his company over 57 years, who employs 52,000 people around the world, who broke the British print unions, barged into US network television, and gave us Titanic and Avatar. Pressed on details of the hacking scandal, he said that the News of the World represented a tiny fraction of News Corp, less than 1 per cent of its $33bn revenues last year. At times the Murdochs addressed the MPs as if they were a slightly dim MBA class. In large businesses, they explained, it was customary to delegate authority to managers, and that these managers had a certain amount of discretion to make decisions and manage budgets. Such systems rely on measures of trust."

The Guardian's Jonathan Freedland wonders if Rupert Murdoch played up his frail appearance:

"More epic still, almost Shakespearean, was the dynamic between father and son: Rupert placing his hand on his son's arm, as he sought to interrupt; James, anxiously watching his father floundering, desperately trying to intervene and take over. Cynics wondered if the whole show was phoney - if old man Rupe was faking semi-senility under Tom Watson's questioning in order to extract sympathy and make credible his claim to have been in the dark about the NoW's darkest practices. He did rally remarkably as the session went on, remembering circulation figures from the mid-1990s and alive to the legal meaning of the phrase "wilful blindness'. (One recalled Ernest Saunders, who avoided full punishment for the Guinness affair by an apparent lapse into Alzheimer's disease, from which he miraculously recovered.)"

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